Mark Twain
Archibald Henderson

Part 2 out of 3

them and mightily well satisfied with his ignorance." This picture
reminds us of the foreign critics of 'The Innocents Abroad' and 'A
Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court': it is too partial and
restricted. The whole point of Mark Twain's humour, as exhibited in
these travel notes, is missed in the statement that "he does not throw
the comic light upon counterfeit enthusiasm"--for this might almost be
taken as the "philosophy" of his books of foreign travel. And yet Mr.
Sherman's dictum, in its entirety, quite clearly provokes the question
whether, as he intimates, the "overwhelming majority" of his
fellow-citizens also were not mightily pleased with Mark Twain's point of
view, and whether they did not enjoy themselves hugely in laughing, not
at him, but with him.

In commenting on the reasons for the broadening and deepening of his
humour with the passage of time, Mr. Clemens once remarked to me: "I
succeeded in the long run, where Shillaber, Doesticks, and Billings
failed, because they never had an ideal higher than that of merely being
funny. The first great lesson of my life was the discovery that I had
to live down my past. When I first began to lecture, and in my earlier
writings, my sole idea was to make comic capital out of everything I saw
and heard. My object was not to tell the truth, but to make people
laugh. I treated my readers as unfairly as I treated everybody else
--eager to betray them at the end with some monstrous absurdity or some
extravagant anti-climax. One night, after a lecture in the early days,
Tom Fitch, the 'silver-tongued orator of Nevada,' said to me: 'Clemens,
your lecture was magnificent. It was eloquent, moving, sincere. Never
in my entire life have I listened to such a magnificent piece of
descriptive narration. But you committed one unpardonable sin--the
unpardonable sin. It is a sin you must never commit again. You closed
a most eloquent description, by which you had keyed your audience up to
a pitch of the intensest interest, with a piece of atrocious anti-climax
which nullified all the really fine effect you had produced. My dear
Clemens, whatever you do, never sell your audience.' And that,"
continued Mr. Clemens, "was my first really profitable lesson."

It was the toning down of his youthful extravagance--Fitch's precept not
to "sell" his audience, Mrs. Fairbanks' warning not to try their
endurance of the irreverent too far--that had a markedly salutary effect
upon Mark Twain's humorous writings. There can be no doubt that the
deep and lifelong friendship of Mr. Howells, expressing itself as
occasion demanded in the friendliest criticism, had a subduing influence
upon Mark Twain's tendency, as a humorist, to extravagance and headlong
exaggeration. In time he left the field of carpet-bag observation--the
humorous depicting of things seen from the rear of an observation car,
so to speak--and turned to fiction. Now at last the long pent-up flood
of observation upon human character and human characteristics found full
vent. 'Tom Sawyer' and 'Huckleberry Finn' are the romances of eternal
youth, the same yesterday, to-day, and forever. They are freighted,
however, with a wealth of pungent and humorous characterization that
have made of them contemporary classics. From ethical sophistication
and moral truantry Mark Twain evolves an inexhaustible supply of humour.
The revolt of mischievous and Bohemian boyhood against the stern
limitations of formal Puritanism is, in a sense, a principle that he
carried with him to the grave. "There are no more vital passages in his
fiction," says Mr. Howells, "than those which embody character as it is
affected for good as well as for evil by the severity of the local
Sunday-schooling and church-going." Out of the pangs of conscience, the
ingenious sedatives of sophistry, the numerous variations of the lie, he
won a wholesome humour that left you thinking, by inversion, upon the
moral involved. Knowledge of human nature finds expression in forms
made permanently effective through the arresting permeation of humour.
The incident of Tom Sawyer and the whitewashing of the fence is the sort
of thing over which boy and man alike can chuckle with satisfaction--for
Tom Sawyer had discovered a great law of human action without knowing
it, namely, that in order to make a man or boy covet a thing, it is only
necessary to make the thing difficult to attain. Huck's reasoning about
chicken stealing--the exquisitely comic shifting of ground from morality
to expediency--is a striking example of the best type of Mark Twain's
humour. Following his father's example, Huck would occasionally "lift"
a chicken that wasn't roosting comfortable; for had his father not told
him that even if he didn't want the chicken himself, he could always
find somebody that did want it, and a good deed ain't never forgot?
Huck confesses that he had never seen his Pap when he didn't want the
chicken himself!

The germ of Mark Twain's humour, wherever it is found, from 'The
Innocents Abroad' to 'The Connecticut Yankee' and 'Captain Stormfield's
Visit to Heaven', is found in the mental reactions resulting from
stupendous and glaring contrasts. First it is the Wild Western
humorist, primitive and untamed, running amuck through the petrified
formulas and encrusted traditions of Europe. Then comes the fantastic
juxtaposition of the shrewd Connecticut Yankee, with his comic
irreverence and raucous sense of humour, his bourgeois limitations and
provincial prejudices, to the Court of King Arthur, with its
mediaevalism, its primitive rudeness and social narrowness. How many
have delighted in the Yankee's inimitable description of his feelings
toward that classic damsel of the sixth century? At first he got along
easily with the girl; but after a while he began to feel for her a sort
of mysterious and shuddery reverence. Whenever she began to unwind one
of those long sentences of hers, and got it well under way, he could
never suppress the feeling that he was standing in the awful presence of
the Mother of the German Language!

Mark Twain ransacked the whole world of his own day, all countries,
savage and civilized, for the display of effective and ludicrous
contrast; and he opened up an illimitable field for humanizing satire,
as Mr. Howells has said, in his juxtaposition of sociologic types
thirteen centuries apart. Not even heaven was safe from the
comprehensive survey of his satire; and 'Captain Stormfield's Visit to
Heaven' is a remarkable document,--a forthright lay sermon,--the
conventional idea of heaven, the theologic conception of eternity, as
heedlessly taught from the pulpit, thrown into comic, yet profoundly
significant, relief against the background of the common-sense of a
deeply human, thoroughly modern intelligence.

Humour, as Thackeray has defined it, is a combination of wit and love.
Certain it is that, in the case of Mark Twain, wit was a later
development of his humour; the love was there all the time. Mark Twain
has not been recognized as a wit; for he was primarily a humorist, and
only secondarily a wit. But the passion for brief and pungent
formulation of an idea grew upon him; and Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar
is a mine of homely and memorable aphorism, epigram, injunction.

According to Mark Twain's classification, the comic story is English,
the witty story French, the humorous story American. While the other
two depend upon matter, the humorous story depends for its effect upon
the manner of telling. The witty story and the comic story must be
concise and end with a "point"; but the humorous story may be as
leisurely as you please and have no particular destination. Mark Twain
always maintained that, while anyone could tell effectively a comic or a
witty story, it required a person skilled in an art of a rare and
distinctive character to tell a humorous story successfully. Mark Twain
was himself the supreme exemplar of the art of telling a humorous story.
Take this little passage, for example, which convulsed one of his London
audiences. He was speaking of a high mountain that he had come across
in his travels. "It is so cold that people who have been there find it
impossible to speak the truth; I know that's a fact (here a pause, a
blank stare, a shake of the head, a little stroll across the platform, a
sigh, a puff, a smothered groan), because--I've--(another pause)--been
--(a longer pause)--there myself." Who could equal Mark Twain as a
humorous narrator, in his recital of the alarums and excursions,
criminations and recriminations, over the story of somebody else's dog
he sold to General Miles for three dollars? He delighted numerous
audiences with his story of inveighing Mrs. Grover Cleveland at a White
House reception into writing blindly on the back of a card "He didn't."
When she turned it over she discovered that it bore on the other side,
in Mrs. Clemens' handwriting, the startling words: "Don't wear your
arctics in the White House." I shall never forget his recital of the
story of how his enthusiasm oozed away at a meeting in behalf of foreign
missions. So moving was the fervid eloquence of the exhorter that,
after fifteen minutes, if Mark Twain had had a blank cheque with him, he
would gladly have turned it over, signed, to the minister, to fill out
for any amount. But it was a very warm evening, the eloquence of the
minister was inexhaustible--and Mark Twain's enthusiasm for foreign
missions slowly oozed away--one hundred dollars, fifty dollars, and even
lower still--so that when the plate was actually passed around, Mark put
in ten cents and took out a quarter!

I was a witness in London, and at Oxford, in 1907, of the vast,
spontaneous, national reception which Mark Twain received from the
English people. One incident of that memorable visit is a perfect
example of that masterly power over an audience, that deep humanity,
with which Mark Twain was endowed. At the banquet presided over by the
Lord Mayor of Liverpool, which was the signal of Mark Twain's farewell
to the English people, his peroration was as follows:

"Many and many a year ago I read an anecdote in Dana's Two Years Before
the Mast. A frivolous little self-important captain of a coasting-sloop
in the dried-apple and kitchen-furniture trade was always hailing every
vessel that came in sight, just to hear himself talk and air his small
grandeurs. One day a majestic Indiaman came ploughing by, with course
on course of canvas towering into the sky, her decks and yards swarming
with sailors, with macaws and monkeys and all manner of strange and
romantic creatures populating her rigging, and thereto her freightage of
precious spices lading the breeze with gracious and mysterious odours of
the Orient. Of course, the little coaster-captain hopped into the
shrouds and squeaked a hail: 'Ship ahoy! What ship is that, and whence
and whither?' In a deep and thunderous bass came the answer back,
through a speaking trumpet: The Begum of Bengal, a hundred and
twenty-three days out from Canton homeward bound! What ship is that?'
The little captain's vanity was all crushed out of him, and most humbly
he squeaked back: 'Only the Mary Ann--fourteen hours from Boston, bound
for Kittery Point with--with nothing to speak of!' That eloquent word
'only' expressed the deeps of his stricken humbleness.

"And what is my case? During perhaps one hour in the twenty-four
--not more than that--I stop and reflect. Then I am humble, then I am
properly meek, and for that little time I am 'only the Mary Ann'
--fourteen hours out, and cargoed with vegetables and tin-ware; but all
the other twenty-three my self-satisfaction rides high, and I am the
stately Indiaman, ploughing the great seas under a cloud of sail, and
laden with a rich freightage of the kindest words that were ever spoken
to a wandering alien, I think; my twenty-six crowded and fortunate days
multiplied by five; and I am the Begum of Bengal, a hundred and
twenty-three days out from Canton--homeward bound!"

Says "Charles Vale," in describing the scene "The audience sat
spellbound in almost painful silence, till it could restrain itself no
longer; and when in rich, resonant, uplifted voice Mark Twain sang out
the words: 'I am the Begum of Bengal, a hundred and twenty-three days
out from Canton,' there burst forth a great cheer from one end of the
room to the other. It seemed an inopportune cheer, and for a moment it
upset the orator: yet it was felicitous in opportuneness. Slowly, after
a long pause, came the last two words--like that curious, detached and
high note in which a great piece of music suddenly ends--'Homeward
bound.' Again there was a cheer: but this time it was lower; it was
subdued; it was the fitting echo to the beautiful words--with their
double significance--the parting from a hospitable land, the return to
the native land. . . . Only a great litterateur could have conceived
such a passage: only a great orator could have so delivered it."

Mark Twain was the greatest master of the anecdote this generation has
known. He claimed the humorous story as an American invention, and one
that has remained at home. His public speeches were little mosaics in
the finesse of their art; and the intricacies of inflection,
insinuation, jovial innuendo which Mark Twain threw into his gestures,
his implicative pauses, his suggestive shrugs and deprecative nods--all
these are hopelessly volatilized and disappear entirely from the printed
copy of his speeches. He gave the most minute and elaborate study to
the preparation of his speeches--polishing them dexterously and
rehearsing every word, every gesture, with infinite care. Yet his
readiness and fertility of resource in taking advantage, and making
telling use, of things in the speeches of those immediately preceding
him, were striking evidences of the rapidity of his thought-processes.
In Boston, when asked what he thought about the existence of a heaven or
a hell, he looked grave for a moment, and then replied: "I don't want to
express an opinion. It's policy for me to keep silent. You see, I have
friends in both places." His speech introducing General Hawley of
Connecticut to a Republican meeting at Elmira, New York, is an admirable
example of his laconic art: "General Hawley is a member of my church at
Hartford, and the author of 'Beautiful Snow.' Maybe he will deny that.
But I am only here to give him a character from his last place. As a
pure citizen, I respect him; as a personal friend of years, I have the
warmest regard for him; as a neighbour, whose vegetable garden adjoins
mine, why--why, I watch him. As the author of 'Beautiful Snow,' he has
added a new pang to winter. He is a square, true man in honest
politics, and I must say he occupies a mighty lonesome position.
So broad, so bountiful is his character that he never turned a tramp
empty-handed from his door, but always gave him a letter of introduction
to me. Pure, honest, incorruptible, that is Joe Hawley. Such a man in
politics is like a bottle of perfumery in a glue factory--it may modify
the stench, but it doesn't destroy it. I haven't said any more of him
than I would say of myself. Ladies and gentlemen, this is General

Mr. Chesterton maintains that Mark Twain was a wit rather than a
humorist--perhaps something more than a humorist. "Wit," he explains,
"requires an intellectual athleticism, because it is akin to logic. A
wit must have something of the same running, working, and staying power
as a mathematician or a metaphysician. Moreover, wit is a fighting
thing and a working thing. A man may enjoy humour all by himself; he
may see a joke when no one else sees it; he may see the point and avoid
it. But wit is a sword; it is meant to make people feel the point as
well as see it. All honest people saw the point of Mark Twain's wit.
Not a few dishonest people felt it." The epigram, "Be virtuous, and you
will be eccentric," has become a catchword; and everyone has heard Mark
Twain's reply to the reporter asking for advice as to what to cable his
paper, which had printed the statement that Mark Twain was dead "Say
that the statement is greatly exaggerated." He has admirably taken off
humanity's enduring self-conceit in the statement that there isn't a
Parallel of Latitude but thinks it would have been the Equator if it had
had its rights. There is something peculiarly American in his warning
to young girls not to marry--that is, not to excess! His remarks on
compliments have a delightful and naive freshness. He points out how
embarrassing compliments always are. It is so difficult to take them
naturally. You never know what to say. He had received many
compliments in his lifetime, and they had always embarrassed him--he
always felt that they hadn't said enough!

The incident of Mark Twain's first meeting with Whistler is quaintly
illustrative of one phase of his broader humour. Mark Twain was taken
by a friend to Whistler's studio, just as he was putting the finishing
touches to one of his fantastic studies. Confident of the usual
commendation, Whistler inquired his guest's opinion of the picture.
Mark Twain assumed the air of a connoisseur, and approaching the picture
remarked that it did very well, but "he didn't care much for that
cloud--"; and suiting the action to the word, appeared to be on the
point of rubbing the cloud with his gloved finger. In genuine horror,
Whistler exclaimed: "Don't touch it, the paint's wet!" "Oh, that's all
right," replied Mark with his characteristic drawl: "these aren't my
best gloves, anyhow!" Whereat Whistler recognized a congenial spirit,
and their first hearty laugh together was the beginning of a friendly
and congenial relationship.

I recall an incident in connection with the writing of his
Autobiography. On more than one occasion, he declared that the
Autobiography was going to be something awful--as caustic, fiendish, and
devilish as he could make it. Actually, he was in the habit of jotting
on the margin of the page, opposite to some startling characterization
or diabolic joke: "Not to be published until ten (or twenty, or thirty)
years after my death." One day I heard him vent his pent-up rage, in
bitter and caustic words, upon a certain strenuous, limelight American
politician. I could not resist the temptation to ask him if this, too,
were going into the Autobiography. "Oh yes," he replied, decisively.
"Everything goes in. I make no exceptions. But," he added
reflectively, with the suspicion of a twinkle in his eye, "I shall make
a note beside this passage: 'Not to be published until one hundred and
fifty years after my death'!"

Mark Twain had numerous "doubles" scattered about the world. The number
continually increased; once a month on an average, he would receive a
letter from a new "double," enclosing a photograph in proof of the
resemblance. Mark once wrote to one of these doubles as follows:


Many thanks for your letter, with enclosed photograph. Your resemblance
to me is remarkable. In fact, to be perfectly honest, you look more
like me than I look like myself. I was so much impressed by the
resemblance that I have had your picture framed, and am now using it
regularly, in place of a mirror, to shave by.

Yours gratefully,

Although not generally recognized, it is undoubtedly true that Mark
Twain was a wit as well as a humorist. He was the author of many
epigrams and curt aphorisms which have become stock phrases in
conversation, quoted in all classes of society wherever the English
language is spoken. His phrasing is unpretentious, even homely, wearing
none of the polished brilliancy of La Rochefoucauld or Bernard Shaw; but
Mark Twain's sayings "stick" because they are rooted in shrewdness and
hard commonsense.

Mark Twain's warning to the two burglars who stole his silverware from
"Stormfield" and were afterwards caught and sent to the penitentiary, is
very amusing, though not highly complimentary to American political

"Now you two young men have been up to my house, stealing my tinware,
and got pulled in by these Yankees up here. You had much better have
stayed in New York, where you have the pull. Don't you see where you're
drifting. They'll send you from here down to Bridgeport jail, and the
next thing you know you'll be in the United States Senate. There's no
other future left open to you."

The sign he posted after the visitation of these same burglars was a
prominent ornament of the billiard room at "Stormfield ":


To the next Burglar

There is nothing but plated-ware in this house, now
and henceforth. You will find it in that brass thing
in the dining-room over in the corner by the basket of
kittens. If you want the basket, put the kittens in
the brass thing.

Do not make a noise, it disturbs the family.

You will find rubbers in the front hall, by that thing
which has the umbrellas in it, chiffonnier, I think
they call it, or pergola, or something like that.

Please close the door when you go away!

Very truly yours,


Now these are examples of Mark Twain's humour, American humour, such as
we are accustomed to expect from Mark Twain--humour not unmixed with a
strong spice of wit. But Mark Twain was capable of wit, pure and
unadulterated, curt and concise. I once saw him write in a young girl's
birthday book an aphorism which he said was one of his favourites "Truth
is our most valuable possession. Let us economize it." The advice he
once gave me as to the proper frame of mind for undergoing a surgical
operation has always remained in my memory: "Console yourself with the
reflection that you are giving the doctor pleasure, and that he is
getting paid for it." Peculiarly memorable is his forthright dictum
that the statue which advertises its modesty with a fig-leaf brings its
modesty under suspicion. His business motto--unfortunately, a motto
that he never followed--has often been attributed, because of its canny
shrewdness, to Mr. Andrew Carnegie. The idea was to put all your eggs
in one basket--and then--watch that basket! His anti-Puritanical
convictions find concrete expression in his assertion that few things
are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example. Truly
classic, in usage if not in form, is his happy saying that faith is
believing what you know ain't so. His definition of a classic as a book
which people praise but don't read, is as frequently heard as are
Biblical and Shakespearian tags.

Mr. Clemens once told me that he had composed between two and three
hundred maxims during his life. Many of them, especially those from the
old and new calendars of Pudd'nhead Wilson, bear the individual and
peculiar stamp of Mark Twain's phraseology and outlook upon life
--quaint, genial, and shrewd. In pursuance of his deep-rooted belief in
the omnipotent power of training, he remarked that the peach was once a
bitter almond, the cauliflower nothing but cabbage with a college
education. He himself was not guiltless of that irreverence which he
defined as disrespect for another man's god. Women took an almost
unholy delight in describing some of their undesirable acquaintances, in
Mark Twain's phrase, as neither quite refined, nor quite unrefined, but
just the kind of person that keeps a parrot!

At times, Mark Twain realized the sanctifying power of illusions in a
world of harsh realities; for he asserted that when illusions are gone
you may still exist, but you have ceased to live. A depressing sense of
world-weariness sometimes overbore the native joyousness of his
temperament; and he expressed his sense of deep gratitude to Adam, the
first great benefactor of the race--because he had brought death into
the world. A funeral always gave Mark Twain a sense of spiritual
uplift, a sense of thankfulness because the dead friend had been set
free. He thought it was far harder to live than to die.

In one of his early sketches, there was admirable wit in the suggestion
to the organist for a hymn appropriate to a sermon on the Prodigal Son:

"Oh! we'll all get blind drunk
When Johnny comes marching home!"

And in The Innocents Abroad there is the same sort of brilliant wit in
the mad logic of his innocent query, on learning that St. Philip Neri's
heart was so inflamed with divine love that it burst his ribs: "I was
curious to know what Philip had for dinner." Mark Twain was capable of
epigrams worthy, in their dark levity, of Swift himself. In speaking of
Pudd'nhead Wilson, Anna E. Keeling has said "Humour there is in almost
every scene and every page; but it is such humour as sheds a wild gleam
on the greatest Shakespearian tragedies--on the deep melancholy of
Hamlet, the heartbreak of Lear." The greatest ironic achievements of
Mark Twain, in brief compass, are the two stories: 'The Man that
Corrupted Hadleyburg' and 'Was it Heaven or Hell'? They reveal the
power and subtlety of his art as an ironic humorist--or shall we rather
say, ironic wit? For they range all the way from the most mordant to
the most pathetic irony--from Mephistophelean laughter to warm, human

"_Sunt lachrymae rerum._"

"Make a reputation first by your more solid achievements," counselled
Oliver Wendell Holmes. "You can't expect to do anything great with
Macbeth, if you first come on flourishing Paul Pry's umbrella." Mark
Twain has had to pay in full the penalty of comic greatness. The world
is loth to accept a popular character at any rating other than its own.
Whosoever sets himself the task of amusing the world must realize the
almost insuperable difficulty of inducing the world to regard him as a
serious thinker. Says Moliere--

"_C'est une etrange entreprise que celle
de faire rire les honnetes gens._"

The strangeness of the undertaking is no less pronounced than the rigour
of its obligations. Mark Twain began his career as a professional
humorist and fun-maker; he frankly donned the motley, the cap and bells.
The man-in-the-street is not easily persuaded that the basis of the
comic is, not uncommon nonsense, but glorified common-sense. The French
have a fine-flavoured distinction in _ce qui remue_ from _ce qui emeut_;
and if _remuage_ is the defining characteristic of 'A Tramp Abroad',
'Roughing It', and 'The Innocents Abroad', there is much of deep
seriousness and genuine emotion in 'Life on the Mississippi', 'Tom
Sawyer', 'Huckleberry Finn', and 'Pudd'nhead Wilson'. In the course of
his lifetime, Mark Twain evolved from a fun-maker into a masterly
humorist, from a sensational journalist into a literary artist. In
explanation of this, let us recall the steps in that evolution. In his
youth, this boy had no schooling worth speaking of; he lived in an
environment that promised only stagnation and decay. As the young boy,
barefooted and dirty, watched the steamboats pass and repass upon the
surface of that great inland deep, the Mississippi, he conceived the
ambition and the ideal of learning to know and to master that mysterious
water. His dream, in time, was realized; he not only became a pilot,
but--which is infinitely more significant--he changed from a callow,
indolent, unobservant lad, with undeveloped faculties, to a man, a
master of the river, with a knowledge which, in its accuracy and
minuteness, was, for its purpose, all-sufficient and complete.

I have always felt that, had it not been for this training in the great
university of the Mississippi, Mark Twain might never have acquired that
trained faculty for minute detail and descriptive elaboration without
which his works, full of flaws as they are, might never have revealed
the very real art which they betray. For the art of Mark Twain is the
art of taking infinite pains--the art of exactitude, precision and
detail. Humour per se is as ephemeral as the laugh--dying in the very
moment of its birth. Art alone can give it enduring vitality. Mark
Twain's native temperament, rich with humour and racy of the soil, drank
in the wonder of the river and unfolded through communication with all
its rude human devotees; the quick mind, the eager susceptibility,
developed and matured through rigorous education in particularity and
detail; and before his spirit the very beauties of Nature herself
disappeared in face of a consuming sense of the work of the world that
must be done.

Mark Twain never wholly escaped the penalty that his reputation as a
humorist compelled him to pay. He became more than popular novelist,
more than a jovial entertainer: he became a public institution, as
unmistakable and as national as the Library of Congress or the
Democratic Party. Even in the latest years of his life, though long
since dissociated in fact from the category of Artemus Ward, John
Phoenix, Josh Billings, and Petroleum V. Nasby, Mark Twain could never
be sure that his most solemn utterance might not be drowned in roars of
thoughtless laughter.

"It has been a very serious and a very difficult matter," Mr. Clemens
once said to me, "to doff the mask of humour with which the public is
accustomed, in thought, to see me adorned. It is the incorrigible
practice of the public, in this or in any country, to see only humour in
the humorist, however serious his vein. Not long ago I wrote a poem,
which I never dreamed of giving to the public, on account of its
seriousness; but on being invited to address the women students of a
certain great university, I was persuaded by a near friend to read this
poem. At the close of my lecture I said 'Now, ladies, I am going to
read you a poem of mine'--which was greeted with bursts of uproarious
laughter. 'But this is a truly serious poem,' I asseverated--only to be
greeted with renewed and, this time, more uproarious laughter. Nettled
by this misunderstanding, I put the poem in my pocket, saying, 'Well,
young ladies, since you do not believe me to be serious, I shall not
read the poem'--at which the audience almost went into convulsions of

Humour is a function of nationality. The same joke, as related by an
American, a Scotchman, an Irishman, a Frenchman, carries with it a
distinctive racial flavour and individuality of approach. Indeed, it is
open to question whether most humour is not essentially local in its
nature, requiring some specialized knowledge of some particular
locality. It would be quite impossible for an Italian on his native
heath to understand that great political satirist, "Mr. Dooley," on the
Negro Problem, for example. After reading George Ade's Fables in Slang,
Mr. Andrew Lang was driven to the desperate conclusion that humour
varies with the parallels of latitude, a joke in Chicago being a riddle
in London.

If one would lay his finger upon the secret of Mark Twain's world-wide
popularity as a humorist, he would find that secret, primarily, in the
universality and humanity of his humour. Mark Twain is a master in the
art of broad contrast; incongruity lurks on the surface of his humour;
and there is about it a staggering and cyclopean surprise. But these
are mere surface qualities, more or less common, though at lower power,
to all forms of humour. Nor is his international vogue as a humorist to
be attributed to any tricks of style, to any breadth of knowledge, or
even to any depth of intellectuality. His hold upon the world is due to
qualities, not of the head, but of the heart. I once heard Mr. Clemens
say that humour is the key to the hearts of men, for it springs from the
heart; and worthy of record is his dictum that there is far more of
feeling than of thought in genuine humour.

Mark Twain succeeded in "tickling the midriff of the English-speaking
races" with a single story; and in time he showed himself to be, not
only a man of letters, but also a man of action. His humour has been
defined as the sunny break of his serious purpose. Horace Walpole has
said that the world is a comedy to the man of thought, a tragedy to the
man of feeling. To the great humorist--to Mark Twain--the world was a
tragi-comedy. Like Smile Faguet, he seemed at times to feel that grief
is the most real and important thing in the world--because it separates
us from happiness. He was an exemplar of the highest, truest, sincerest
humour, perfectly fulfilling George Meredith's definition: "If you laugh
all round him, tumble him, roll him about, deal him a smack, and drop a
tear on him, own his likeness to you and yours to your neighbour, spare
him as little as you shun, pity him as much as you expose, it is the
spirit of Humour that is moving you." Mark Twain's fun was
light-hearted and insouciant, his pathos genuine and profound. "He is,
above all," said that oldest of English journals, 'The Spectator', "the
fearless upholder of all that is clean, noble, straightforward, innocent,
and manly. . . . If he is a jester, he jests with the mirth of the
happiest of the Puritans; he has read much of English knighthood, and
translated the best of it into his living pages; and he has assuredly
already won a high degree in letters in having added more than any writer
since Dickens to the gaiety of the Empire of the English language."

Mark Twain's humour flowed warm from the heart. He enjoyed to the
utmost those two inalienable blessings: "laughter and the love of
friends." He woke the laughter of an epoch and numbered a world for his
friends. "He is the true consolidator of nations," said Mr. Augustine
Birrell. "His delightful humour is of the kind which dissipates and
destroys national prejudices. His truth and his honour, his love of
truth and his love of honour, overflow all boundaries. He has made the
world better by his presence."


"Art transmitting the simplest feelings of common life,
but such, always, as are accessible to all men in the
whole world the art of common life--the art of a people
--universal art."
TOLSTOY: What is Art?

Some years ago a group of Mark Twain's friends, in a spirit of fun,
addressed a letter to:


Though taking a somewhat circuitous route, the letter went unerringly to
its goal; and it was not long before the senders of that letter received
the laconic, but triumphant reply: "He did." They now turned the tables
on the jubilant author, who equally as quickly received a letter


It seemed that "he" did, too!

In his lifetime Mark Twain won a fame that was literally world-wide
--a fame, indeed, which seemed to extend to realms peopled by noted
theological characters. From very humble beginnings--he used
facetiously to speak of coming up from the "very dregs of society"!
--Mark Twain achieved international eminence and repute. This
accomplishment was due to the power of brain and personality alone. In
this sense, his career is unprecedented and unparalleled in the history
of American literature.

It is a mark of the democratic independence of America that she has
betrayed a singular indifference to the appraisal of her literature at
the hands of foreign criticism. Upon her writers who have exhibited
derivative genius--Irving, Hawthorne, Emerson, Longfellow--American
criticism has lavished the most extravagant eulogiums. The three
geniuses who have made permanent contributions to world-literature, who
have either embodied in the completest degree the spirit of American
democracy, or who have had the widest following of imitators and
admirers in foreign countries, still await their final and just deserts
at the hands of critical opinion in their own land. The genius of Edgar
Allan Poe gave rise to schools of literature on the continent of Europe;
yet in America his name must remain for years debarred from inclusion in
a so-called Hall of Fame! Walt Whitman and Mark Twain, the two great
interpreters and embodiments of America, represent the supreme
contribution of democracy to universal literature. In so far as it is
legitimate for anyone to be denominated a "self-made man" in literature,
these men are justly entitled to such characterization. They owe
nothing to European literature--their genius is supremely original,
native, democratic. The case of Mark Twain, which is our present
concern, is a literary phenomenon which imposes upon criticism,
peculiarly upon American criticism, the distinct obligation of tracing
the steps in his unhalting climb to an eminence that was international
in its character, and of defining those signal qualities, traits,
characteristics--individual, literary, social, racial, national--which
compassed his world-wide fame. For if it be true that the judgment of
foreign nations is virtually the judgment of posterity, then is Mark
Twain already a classic.

Upon the continent of Europe, Mark Twain first received notable
recognition in France at the hands of that brilliant woman, Mme. Blanc
(Th. Bentzon), who devoted so much of her energies to the popularization
of American literature in Europe. That one of her series of essays upon
the American humorists which dealt with Mark Twain appeared in the
'Revue des Deux Mondes' in 1872; in it appeared her admirable
translation of 'The Jumping Frog'. There is no cause for surprise that
a scholarly Frenchwoman, reared on classic models and confined by rigid
canons of art, should stand aghast at this boisterous, barbaric,
irreverent jester from the wilds of America. When it is remembered that
Mark Twain began his career as one of the sage-brush writers and gave
free play to his passion for horseplay, his desire to "lay a mine" for
the other fellow, and his defiance of the traditional and the classic,
it is not to be wondered at that Mme. Blanc, while honouring him with
recognition in the most authoritative literary journal in the world,
could not conceal an expression of amazement over his enthusiastic
acceptance in English-speaking countries.

"Mark Twain's 'Jumping Frog' should be mentioned in the first place
as one of his most popular little stories--almost a type of the
rest. It is, nevertheless, rather difficult for us to understand,
while reading this story, the 'roars of laughter' that it excited
in Australia and in India, in New York and in London; the numerous
editions of it which appeared; the epithet of 'inimitable' that the
critics of the English press have unanimously awarded to it.

"We may remark that a Persian of Montesquieu, a Huron of Voltaire,
even a simple Peruvian woman of Madame de Graffigny, reasons much
more wisely about European civilization than an American of San
Francisco. The fact is, that it is not sufficient to have wit, or
even natural taste, in order to appreciate works of art.

"It is the right of humorists to be extravagant; but still common
sense, although carefully hidden, ought sometimes to make itself
apparent. . . . In Mark Twain the Protestant is enraged against
the pagan worship of broken marble statues--the democrat denies
that there was any poetic feeling in the middle ages. The sublime
ruins of the Coliseum only impressed him with the superiority of
America, which punishes its criminals by forcing them to work for
the benefit of the State, over ancient Rome, which could only draw
from the punishments which it inflicted the passing pleasure of a

"In the course of this voyage in company with Mark Twain, we at
length discover, under his good-fellowship and apparent
ingenuousness, faults which we should never have expected. He has
in the highest degree that fault of appearing astonished at
nothing--common, we may say, to all savages. He confesses himself
that one of his great pleasures is to horrify the guides by his
indifference and stupidity. He is, too, decidedly envious. . . .
We could willingly pardon him his patriotic self-love, often
wounded by the ignorance of Europeans, above all in what concerns
the New World, if only that national pride were without mixture of
personal vanity; but how comes it that Mark Twain, so severe upon
those poor Turks, finds scarcely anything to criticize in Russia,
where absolutism has nevertheless not ceased to flourish? We need
not seek far for the cause of this indulgence: the Czar received
our ferocious republicans; the Empress, and the Grand Duchess Mary,
spoke to them in English.

"Taking the Pleasure Trip on the Continent altogether, does it
merit the success it enjoys? In spite of the indulgence that we
cannot but show to the judgments of a foreigner; while recollecting
that those amongst us who have visited America have fallen,
doubtless, under the influence of prejudices almost as dangerous as
ignorance, into errors quite as bad--in spite of the wit with which
certain pages sparkle--we must say that this voyage is very far
below the less celebrated excursions of the same author in his own

Three years later, Mme. Blanc returns to the discussion of Mark Twain,
in an essay in the 'Revue des Deux Mondes', entitled 'L'age Dore en
Amerique'--an elaborate review and analysis of The Gilded Age. The
savage charm and real simplicity of Mark Twain are not lacking in
appeal, even to her sophisticated intelligence; and she is inclined to
infer that jovial irony and animal spirits are qualities sufficient to
amuse a young nation of people like the Americans who do not, like the
French, pique themselves upon being blase. According to her judgment,
Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner are lacking in the requisite mental
grasp for the "stupendous task of interpreting the great tableau of the
American scene." Nor does she regard their effort at collaboration as a
success from the standpoint of art. The charm of Colonel Sellers wholly
escapes her; she cannot understand the almost loving appreciation with
which this cheaply gross forerunner of the later American industrial
brigand was greeted by the American public. The book repels her by
"that mixture of good sense with mad folly--disorder"; but she praises
Mark Twain's accuracy as a reporter. The things which offend her
sensibilities are the wilful exaggeration of the characters, and the
jests which are so elaborately constructed that "the very theme itself
disappears under the mass of embroidery which overlays it." "The
audacities of a Bret Harte, the grosser temerities of a Mark Twain,
still astonish us," she concludes; "but soon we shall become accustomed
to an American language whose savoury freshness is not to be disdained,
awaiting still more delicate and refined qualities that time will
doubtless bring."

In translating 'The Jumping Frog' into faultless French (giving Mark
Twain the opportunity for that delightful retranslation into English
which furnished delight for thousands), in reviewing with elaboration
and long citations 'The Innocents Abroad' and 'The Gilded Age', Mme.
Blanc introduced Mark Twain to the literary public of France; and Emile
Blemont, in his 'Esquisses Americaines de Mark Twain' (1881), still
further enhanced the fame of Mark Twain in France by translating a
number of his slighter sketches. In 1886, Eugene Forgues published in
the 'Revue des Deux Mondes' an exhaustive review (with long citations)
of 'Life on the Mississippi', under the title 'Les Caravans d'un
humoriste'; and his prefatory remarks in regard to Mark Twain's fame in
France at that time may be accepted as authoritative. He pointed out
the praiseworthy efforts that had been made to popularize these
"transatlantic gaieties," to import into France a new mode of comic
entertainment. Yet he felt that the peculiar twist of national
character, the type of wit peculiar to a people and a country, the
specialized conception of the _vis comica_ revealed in Mark Twain's
works, confined them to a restricted milieu. The result of all the
efforts to popularize Mark Twain in France, he makes plain, was an
almost complete check; for to the French taste Mark Twain's pleasantry
appeared macabre, his wit brutal, his temperament dry to excess. By
some, indeed, his exaggerations were regarded as symptoms of mental
alienation; and the originality of his verve did not succeed in giving a
passport to the incoherence of his conceptions. "It has been said,"
remarked M. Forgues, with keen perception, "that an academician slumbers
in the depths of every Frenchman; and it was this which prevented the
success of Mark Twain in France. Humour, in France, has its laws and
its restrictions. So the French public saw in Mark Twain a gross
jester, incessantly beating upon a tom-tom to attract the attention of
the crowd. They were tenacious in resisting all such blandishments
. . . . As a humorist, Mark Twain was never appreciated in France.
The appreciation he ultimately secured--an appreciation by no means
inconsiderable, though in no sense comparable to that won in Anglo-Saxon
and Germanic countries--was due to his sagacity and penetration as an
observer, and to his marvellous faculty for calling up scenes and
situations by the clever use of the novel and the _imprevu_. There was,
even to the Frenchman, a certain lively appeal in an intelligence
absolutely free of convention, sophistication, or reverence for
traditionary views _qua_ traditionary." Though at first the salt of
Mark Twain's humour seemed to the French to be lacking in the Attic
flavour, this new mode of comic entertainment, the leisurely exposition
of the genially naive American, in time won its way with the _blase_
Parisians. Travellers who could find no copy of the Bible in the street
bookstalls of Paris, were confronted everywhere with copies of 'Roughing
It'. When the authoritative edition of Mark Twain's works appeared in
English, that authoritative French journal, the 'Mercure de France',
paid him this distinguished tribute: "His public is as varied as
possible, because of the versatility and suppleness of his talent which
addresses itself successively to all classes of readers. He has been
called the greatest humorist in the world, and that is probably the
truth; but he is also a charming and attractive story-teller, an alert
romancer, a clever and penetrating observer, a philosopher without
pretensions, and therefore all the more profound, and finally, a
brilliant essayist."

Nevertheless, the observation of M. Forgues is just and authentic--the
Attic flavour of _l'esprit Gaulois_ is alien to the loosely articulated
structure of American humour. The noteworthy criticism which Mark Twain
directed at Paul Bourget's 'Outre Mer', and the subsequent controversy
incident thereto, forced into light the racial and temperamental
dissimilarities between the Gallic and the American _Ausschauung_. Mr.
Clemens once remarked to me that, of all continental peoples, the French
were most alien to the spirit of his humour. In 'Le Figaro', at the
time of Mark Twain's death, this fundamental difference in taste once
more comes to light: "It is as difficult for a Frenchman to understand
Mark Twain as for a North American to admire La Fontaine. At first
sight, there is nothing in common between that highly specialized
faculty which the Anglo-Saxons of the old and the new world designate
under the name of humour, and that quality with us which we call wit
(esprit). And yet, at bottom, these two manifestations of the human
genius, so different in appearance, have a common origin and reach the
same result: they are, both of them, the glorification of good sense
presented in pleasing and unexpected form. Only, this form must
necessarily vary with peoples who do not speak the same language and
whose skulls are not fashioned in the same way."

In Italy, as in France, the peculiar _timbre_ of Mark Twain's humour
found an audience not wholly sympathetic, not thoroughly _au courant_
with his spirit. "Translation, however accurate and conscientious," as
the Italian critic, Raffaele Simboli, has pointed out, "fails to render
the special flavour of his work. And then in Italy, where humorous
writing generally either rests on a political basis or depends on risky
phrases, Mark Twain's sketches are not appreciated because the spirit
which breathes in them is not always understood. The story of 'The
Jumping Frog', for instance, famous as it is in America and England, has
made little impression in France or Italy."

It was rather among the Germanic peoples and those most closely allied
to them, the Scandinavians, that Mark Twain found most complete and
ready response. At first blush, it seems almost incredible that the
writings of Mark Twain, with their occasional slang, their
colloquialisms and their local peculiarities of dialect, should have
borne translation so well into other languages, especially into German.
It must, however, be borne in mind that, despite these peculiar features
of his writings, they are couched in a style of most marked directness,
simplicity and native English purity. The ease with which his works
were translated into foreign, especially the Germanic and allied
tongues, and the eager delight with which they were read and
comprehended by all classes, high and low, constitute perhaps the most
signal conceivable tribute, not only to the humanity of his spirit, but
to the genuine art of his marvellously forthright and natural style.
It need be no cause for surprise that as early as 1872 he had secured
Tauchnitz, of Leipzig, for his Continental agent. German translations
soon appeared of 'The Jumping Frog and Other Stories' (1874), 'The
Gilded Age' (1874), 'The Innocents Abroad and The New Pilgrim's
Progress' (1875), 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer' (1876). A few years
later his sketches, many of them, were translated into virtually all
printed languages, notably into Russian and modern Greek; and his more
extended works gradually came to be translated into German, French,
Italian, and the languages of Denmark and the Scandinavian peninsula.

The elements of the colossally grotesque, the wildly primitive, in Mark
Twain's works, the underlying note of melancholy not less than the
lawless Bohemianism, found sympathetic appreciation among the Germanic
races. George Meredith has likened the functionings of Germanic humour
to the heavy-footed antics of a dancing bear. Mark Twain's stories of
the Argonauts, the miners and desperadoes, with their primitive,
orgiastic existence; his narratives of the wild freedom of the life on
the Mississippi, the lawless feuds and barbaric encounters--all appealed
to the passion for the fantastic and the grotesque innate in the
Germanic consciousness. To the Europeans, this wild genius of the
Pacific Slope seemed to function in a sort of unexplored fourth
dimension of humour--vast and novel--of which they had never dreamed.
It is noteworthy that Schleich, in his 'Psychopathik des Humors',
reserved for American humour, with Mark Twain as its leading exponent,
a distinct and unique category which he denominated _phantastischen,

To the biographer belongs the task of describing, in detail, the lavish
entertainment and open-hearted homage which were bestowed upon Mark
Twain in German Europe. In writing of Mark Twain and his popularity in
Germanic countries, Carl von Thaler unhesitatingly asserts that Mark
Twain was feted, wined and dined in Vienna, the Austrian metropolis, in
an unprecedented manner, and awarded unique honours hitherto paid to no
German writer. In Berlin, the young Kaiser bestowed upon him the most
distinguished marks of his esteem; and praised his works, in especial
'Life on the Mississippi', with the intensest enthusiasm. When Mark
Twain received a command from the Kaiser to dine with him, his young
daughter exclaimed that if it kept on like this, there soon wouldn't be
anybody left for him to become acquainted with but God! Mark said that
it seemed uncomplimentary to regard him as unacquainted in that quarter;
but of course his daughter was young, and the young always jump to
conclusions without reflection. After hearing the Kaiser's eulogy on
'Life on the Mississippi', he was astounded and touched to receive a
similar tribute, the same evening, from the portier of his
lodging-house. He loved to dwell upon this, in later years--declaring it
the most extraordinary coincidence of his life that a crowned head and a
portier, the very top of an empire and the very bottom of it, should have
expressed the very same criticism, and delivered the very same verdict,
upon one of his books, almost in the same hour and the same breath.

The German edition of his works, in six volumes, published by Lutz of
Stuttgart, in 1898, I believe, contained an introduction in which he was
hailed as the greatest humorist in the world. Among German critics he
was regarded as second only to Dickens in drastic comic situation and
depth of feeling. Robinson Crusoe was held to exhibit a limited power
of imagination in comparison with the ingenuity and inventiveness of Tom
Sawyer. At times the German critics confessed their inability to
discover the dividing line between astounding actuality and fantastic
exaggeration. The descriptions of the barbaric state of Western America
possessed an indescribable fascination for the sedate Europeans. At
times Mark Twain's bloody jests froze the laughter on their lips; and
his "revolver-humour" made their hair stand on end. Though realizing
that the scenes and events described in 'Tom Sawyer', 'Huckleberry
Finn', 'Roughing It', and 'Life on the Mississippi' could not have been
duplicated in Europe, the German critics revelled in them none the less
that "such adventures were possible only in America--perhaps only in the
fancy of an American!" "Mark Twain's greatest strength," says Von
Thaler, "lies in the little sketches, the literary snap-shots. The
shorter his work, the more striking it is. He draws directly from life.
No other writer has learned to know so many different varieties of men
and of circumstances, so many strange examples of the Genus Homo, as he;
no other has taken so strange a course of development." The deeper
elements of Mark Twain's humour did not escape the attention of the
Germans, nor fail of appreciation at their hands. In his aphorisms,
embodying at once genuine wit and experience of life, they discovered
not merely the American author, but the universal human being; these
aphorisms they found worthy of profound and lasting admiration.
Sintenis found in Mark Twain a "living symptom of the youthful joy in
existence"--a genius capable at will, despite his "boyish extravagance,"
of the virile formulation of fertile and suggestive ideas. His latest
critic in Germany wrote at the time of his death, with a genuine insight
into the significance of his work: "Although Mark Twain's humour moves
us to irresistible laughter, this is not the main point in his books;
like all true humorists, _ist der Witz mit dem Weltschmerz verbunden_,
he is a witness to higher thoughts and higher emotions, and his purpose
is to expose bad morals and evil circumstances, in order to improve and
ennoble mankind." The critic of the 'Berliner Zeitung' asserted that
Mark Twain is loved in Germany more than all other humorists, English or
French, because his humour "turns fundamentally upon serious and earnest
conceptions of life." It is a tremendously significant fact that the,
works of American literature most widely read in Germany are the works
of--striking conjunction!--Ralph Waldo Emerson and Mark Twain.

The 'Jumping Frog of Calaveras County' fired the laugh heard round the
world. Like Byron, Mark Twain woke one morning to find himself famous.
A classic fable, which had once evoked inextinguishable laughter in
Athens, was unconsciously re-told in the language of Angel's Camp,
Calaveras County, where history repeated itself with a precision of
detail startling in its miraculous coincidence. Despite the
international fame thus suddenly won by this little fable, Mark Twain
had yet to overcome the ingrained opposition of insular prejudice before
his position in England and the colonies was established upon a sure and
enduring footing. In a review of 'The Innocents Abroad' in 'The
Saturday Review' (1870), the comparison is made between the Americans
who "do Europe in six weeks" and the most nearly analogous class of
British travellers, with the following interesting conclusions: "The
American is generally the noisier and more actively disagreeable, but,
on the other hand, he often partially redeems his absurdity by a certain
naivete and half-conscious humour. He is often laughing in his sleeve
at his own preposterous brags, and does not take himself quite so
seriously as his British rival. He is vulgar, and even ostentatiously
and atrociously vulgar; but the vulgarity is mixed with a real
shrewdness which rescues it from simple insipidity. We laugh at him,
and we would rather not have too much of his company; but we do not feel
altogether safe in despising him." The lordly condescension and gross
self-satisfaction here betrayed are but preliminaries to the ludicrous
density of the subsequent reflections upon Mark Twain himself: "He
parades his utter ignorance of Continental languages and manners, and
expresses his very original judgments on various wonders of art and
nature with a praiseworthy frankness. We are sometimes left in doubt
whether he is speaking in all sincerity or whether he is having a sly
laugh at himself and his readers"! It is quite evident that the large
mass of English readers, represented by The Saturday Review, had not
caught Mark Twain's tone; but even the reviewer is more than half won
over by the infectiousness of this new American humour. "Perhaps we
have persuaded our readers by this time that Mr. Twain (sic) is a very
offensive specimen of the vulgarest kind of Yankee. And yet, to say the
truth, we have a kind of liking for him. There is a frankness and
originality about his remarks which is (sic) pleasanter than the mere
repetition of stale raptures; and his fun, if not very refined, is often
tolerable in its way. In short, his pages may be turned over with
amusement, as exhibiting more or less consciously a very lively portrait
of the uncultivated American tourist, who may be more obtrusive and
misjudging, but is not quite so stupidly unobservant as our native
product. We should not choose either of them for our companions on a
visit to a church or a picture--gallery, but we should expect most
amusement from the Yankee as long as we could stand him." It was this
review which gave Mark Twain the opening for his celebrated parody--a
parody which, I have always thought, went far to opening the eyes of the
British public to the true spirit of his humour. Such irresistible fun
could not fail of appreciation at the hands of a nation which regarded
Dickens as their representative national author.

Two years later, Mark Twain received in England an appreciative
reception of well-nigh national character. Whilst the literary and
academic circles of America withheld their unstinted recognition of an
author so primitive and unlettered, Great Britain received him with open
arms. He was a welcome guest at the houses of the exclusive; the
highest dignitaries of public life, the authoritative journals, the
leaders of fashion, of thought, and of opinion openly rejoiced in the
breezy unconventionality, the fascinating daring, and the genial
personality of this new variety of American genius. His English
publisher, John Camden Hotten, wrote in 1873: "How he dined with the
Sheriff of London and Middlesex; how he spent glorious evenings with the
wits and literati who gather around the festive boards of the
Whitefriars and the Savage Clubs; how he moved in the gay throng at the
Guildhall conversazione; how he feasted with the Lord Mayor of London;
and was the guest of that ancient and most honourable body--the City of
London Artillery--all these matters we should like to dwell upon." His
public lectures, though not so popular as those of Artemus Ward, won him
recognition as a master in all the arts of the platform. Mr. H. R.
Haweis, who heard him once at the old Hanover Square Rooms, thus
describes the occasion: "The audience was not large nor very
enthusiastic. I believe he would have been an increasing success had he
stayed longer. We had not time to get accustomed to his peculiar way,
and there was nothing to take us by storm, as in Artemus Ward. . . . .
He came on and stood quite alone. A little table, with the traditional
water-bottle and tumbler, was by his side. His appearance was not
impressive, not very unlike the representation of him in the various
pictures in his 'Tramp Abroad'. He spoke more slowly than any other man
I ever heard, and did not look at his audience quite enough. I do not
think that he felt altogether at home with us, nor we with him. We
never laughed loud or long; no one went into those irrepressible
convulsions which used to make Artemus pause and look so hurt and
surprised. We sat throughout expectant and on the _qui vive_, very well
interested, and gently simmering with amusement. With the exception of
one exquisite description of the old Magdalen ivy--covered collegiate
buildings at Oxford University, I do not think there was one thing worth
setting down in print. I got no information out of the lecture, and
hardly a joke that would wear, or a story that would bear repeating.
There was a deal about the dismal, lone silver--land, the story of the
Mexican plug that bucked, and a duel which never came off, and another
duel in which no one was injured; and we sat patiently enough through
it, fancying that by and by the introduction would be over, and the
lecture would begin, when Twain suddenly made his bow and went off! It
was over. I looked at my watch; I was never more taken aback. I had
been sitting there exactly an hour and twenty minutes. It seemed ten
minutes at the outside. If you have ever tried to address a public
meeting, you will know what this means. It means that Mark Twain is a
consummate public speaker. If ever he chose to say anything, he would
say it marvellously well; but in the art of saying nothing in an hour,
he surpasses our most accomplished parliamentary speakers."

The nation which had been reared upon the wit of Sidney Smith, the irony
of Swift, the _gros sel_ of Fielding, the extravagance of Dickens, was
ripe for the colossal incongruities and daring contrasts of Mark Twain.
They recognized in him not only "the most successful and original wag of
his day," but also a rare genius who shared with Walt Whitman "the
honour of being the most strictly American writer of what is called
American literature." We read in a review of 'A Tramp Abroad',
published in The Athenaeum in 1880: "Mark Twain is American pure and
simple. To the eastern motherland he owes but the rudiments, the
groundwork, already archaic and obsolete to him, of the speech he has to
write; in his turn of art, his literary method and aims, his
intellectual habit and temper, he is as distinctly national as the
Fourth of July." Mark Twain was admired because he was "a literary
artist of exceptional skill"; and it was ungrudgingly acknowledged that
"he has a keen sense of character and uncommon skill in presenting it
dramatically; and he is also an admirable story-teller, with the
anecdotic instinct and habit in perfection, and with a power of episodic
narrative that is scarcely equalled, if at all, by Mr. Charles Reade
himself." Indeed, from the early days of 'The Innocents Abroad', the
"first transatlantic democratic utterance which found its way into the
hearing of the mass of English people"; during the period of 'Tom
Sawyer', "the completest boy in fiction," the immortal 'Huckleberry
Finn', "the standard picaresque novel of America--the least trammelled
piece of literature in the language," and 'Life on the Mississippi',
vastly appreciated in England as in Germany for its _cultur-historisch_
value; down to the day when Oxford University bestowed the coveted
honour of its degree upon Mark Twain, and all England took him to their
hearts with fervour and abandon--during this long period of almost four
decades, Mark Twain progressively strengthened his hold upon the
imagination of the English people and, like Charles Dickens before him,
may be said to have become the representative author of the Anglo-Saxon
race. "The vast majority of readers here regard him," said Mr. Sydney
Brooks in 1907, "to a degree in which they regard no other living
writer, as their personal friend, and love him for his tenderness, his
masculinity, his unfailing wholesomeness even more than for his humour."
To all who love and admire Mark Twain, these words in which he was
welcomed to England in 1907 should stand as a symbol of that racial
bond, that _entente cordiale_ of blood and heart, which he did so much
to strengthen and secure. "A compliment paid to Mark Twain is something
more than a compliment to a great man, a great writer, and a great
citizen. It is a compliment to the American people, and one that will
come home to them with peculiar gratification. . . . The feeling for
Mark Twain among his own people is like that of the Scotch for Sir
Walter eighty odd years ago, or like that of our fathers for Charles
Dickens. There is admiration in it, gratitude, pride, and, above all,
an immense and intimate tenderness of affection. To writers alone it is
given to win a sentiment of this quality--to writers and occasionally,
by the oddness of the human mind, to generals. Perhaps one would best
take the measure of the American devotion to Mark Twain by describing it
as a compound of what Dickens enjoyed in England forty years ago, and of
what Lord Roberts enjoys to-day, and by adding something thereto for the
intensity of all transatlantic emotions. The 'popularity' of statesmen,
even of such a statesman as President Roosevelt, is a poor and
flickering light by the side of this full flame of personal affection.
It has gone out to Mark Twain not only for what he has written, for the
clean, irresistible extravagance of his humour and his unfailing command
of the primal feelings, for his tenderness, his jollity and his power to
read the heart of boy and man and woman; not only for the tragedies and
afflictions of his life so unconquerably borne; not only for his brave
and fiery dashes against tyranny, humbug, and corruption at home and
abroad; but also because his countrymen feel him to be, beyond all other
men, the incarnation of the American spirit."

Mark Twain achieved a position of supreme eminence as a representative
national author which is without a parallel in the history of American
literature. This position he achieved directly by his appeal to the
great mass of the people, despite the _dicta_ of the _literati_. At a
time when England and Europe were throwing wide the doors to Mark Twain,
the culture of his own land was regarding him with slighting
condescension, or with mildly quizzical unconcern. Boston regarded him
with fastidious and frigid disapproval, Longfellow and Lowell found
little in him to admire or approve. There were notable exceptions, as
Mr. Howells has recently pointed out--Charles Eliot Norton, Professor
Francis J. Child, and most notable of all, Mr. Howells himself; but in
general it is true that "in proportion as people thought themselves
refined they questioned that quality which all recognize in him now, but
which was then the inspired knowledge of the simple-hearted multitude."
The professors of literature regarded Mark Twain as an author whose
works were essentially ephemeral; and stood in the breach for Culture
against the barbaric invasion of primitive Western Barbarism. Professor
W. P. Trent was, I believe, the first to cite Professor Richardson's
American Literature (published in 1886) as a typical instance of the
position of literary culture in regard to Mark Twain. "But there is a
class of writers," we read in that work, "authors ranking below Irving
or Lowell, and lacking the higher artistic or moral purpose of the
greater humorists, who amuse a generation and then pass from sight.
Every period demands a new manner of jest, after the current fashion
. . . . The reigning favourites of the day are Frank R. Stockton,
Joel Chandler Harris, the various newspaper jokers, and 'Mark Twain.'
[Note the damning position!] But the creators of `Pomona' and 'Rudder
Grange,' of `Uncle Remus and his Folk-lore Stories,' and `Innocents
Abroad,' clever as they are, must make hay while the sun shines. Twenty
years hence, unless they chance to enshrine their wit in some higher
literary achievement, their unknown successors will be the privileged
comedians of the republic. Humour alone never gives its masters a place
in literature; it must coexist with literary qualities, and must usually
be joined with such pathos as one finds in Lamb, Hood, Irving, or
Holmes." This passage stands in the 1892 edition of that work, though
'Tom Sawyer' had appeared in 1876, 'The Prince and the Pauper' in 1882,
'Life on the Mississippi' in 1883, 'Huckleberry Finn' in 1884, and 'A
Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court' in 1889. Opinions analogous
to those expressed in the passage just cited have found frequent
expression among leaders of critical opinion in America; and only
yesterday 'The Jumping Frog' and 'The Innocents Abroad' were seriously
put forward, by a clever and popular American critic, as Mark Twain's
most enduring claims upon posterity! A bare half-dozen men in the ranks
of American literary criticism have recognized and eloquently spoken
forth in vindication of Mark Twain's title as a classic author, not
simply of American literature, but of the literature of the world.

It is, even now, perhaps not too early to attempt some sort of inquiry
into the causes contributory to Mark Twain's recognition as the prime
representative of contemporary American literature. One of the cheap
catchwords of Mark Twain criticism is the statement that he is "American
to the core," and that his popular appreciation in his own country was
due to the fact that he most completely embodied the national genius.
How many of those who confidently advance this vastly significant
statement, one curiously wonders, have seriously endeavoured to make
plain to others--or even to themselves--the reasons therefor? Perhaps
in seeking the causes for Mark Twain's renown in his own country one may
discover the causes for his world-wide fame.

A map of the United States, upon which were marked the localities and
regions made famous by the writings of Mark Twain, would show that,
geographically, he has known and studied this vast country in all the
grand divisions of its composition. Bred from old Southern stock, born
in the Southwest, he passed his youth upon the bosom of that great
natural division between East and West, the Mississippi River, which
cleaves in twain the very body of the nation. In the twenties he lost
the feeling of local attachment in the vast democracy of the West, and
looked life--a strangely barbaric and primitive life--straight in the
face. This is the first great transformation in his life--behold the
Westerner! After enriching his mind through contact with civilizations
so diverse as Europe and the Sandwich Islands, he settled down in
Connecticut, boldly foreswore the creeds and principles of his native
section, and underwent a new transformation--behold the Yankee! Once
again, travel in foreign lands, association with the most intellectual
and cultured circles of the world, broadened his vision; yet this
cosmopolitan experience, far from diminishing his racial consciousness,
tended still further to accentuate the national characteristics. In
this new transformation, we behold the typical American! The later
years, of cosmopolitan renown, of world-wide fame, throw into high
relief the last transformation--behold the universally human spirit!
Under this crude catalogue, the main lines of Mark Twain's development
stand out in sharp definition. The catalogue, however, is only too
crude--it is impossible to say with precision just when such and such
a transformation actually took place. It is only intended to be
suggestive; for we must bear in mind that Mark Twain never changed
character. His spirit underwent an evolutionary process--broadening,
deepening, enlarging its vision with the passage of the years.

The part which the South played in the formation of the character and
genius of Mark Twain has been little noted heretofore. It was in the
South and Southwest that the creator of the humour of local eccentrics
first appeared in full flower; and "Ned Brace," "Major Jones," and "Sut
Lovengood" have in them the germs of that later Western humour that was
to come to full fruition in the works of Bret Harte and Mark Twain. The
stage coach and the river steamboat furnished the means for
disseminating far and wide the gross, the ghastly, the extravagant
stories, the oddities of speech, the fantastic jests which emerged from
the clash of diverse and oddly-assorted types. The jarring contrasts,
the incongruities and surprises daily furnished by the picturesque river
life unquestionably stimulated and fertilized the latent germs of humour
in the young cub-pilot, Sam Clemens. Through Mark Twain's greatest
works flows the stately Mississippi, magically imparting to them some
indefinable share of its beauty, its variety, its majesty, its
immensity; and there is no exaggeration in the conclusion that it is the
greatest natural influence which his works betray. Reared in a
slave-holding community of narrow-visioned, arrogantly provincial people
of the lower middle class; seeing his own father so degrade himself as to
cuff his negro house-boy; consorting with ragamuffins, the rag-tag and
bob-tail of the town, in his passion for bohemianism and truantry--young
Clemens never learned to know the beauty and the dignity, the purity and
the humanity, of that aristocratic patriarchal South which produced such
beautiful figures as Lee and Lanier. Not even his most enthusiastic
biographers have attempted to palliate, save with half-hearted
facetiousness, his inglorious desertion of the cause which he had
espoused. Mark Twain is the most speedily "reconstructed rebel" on
record. Is it broad-minded--or even accurate!--for Mr. Howells to say of
Mark Twain: "No one has ever poured such scorn upon the second-hand,
Walter-Scotticised, pseudo-chivalry of the Southern ideal?" Mark Twain
never, I firmly believe, held up to ridicule the Southern "ideal." But
in a well-known and excellent passage in Life on the Mississippi, he
properly pokes fun at the "wordy, windy, flowery 'eloquence,'
romanticism, sentimentality--all imitated from Sir Walter Scott," of the
Southern literary journal of the thirties and forties. In later years
Mark Twain, in his 'Joan of Arc', voiced a spirit of noble chivalry which
bespoke the "Southern ideal" of his Virginia forbears; and that delicacy
of instinct in matters of right and wrong which is so conspicuous a trait
of Mark Twain's is a symptom of that "moral elegance" which Mr. Owen
Wister has pronounced to be one of the defining characteristics of the
Southern American. "No American of Northern birth or breeding," Mr.
Howells pertinently observes, "could have imagined the spiritual struggle
of Huck Finn in deciding to help the negro Jim to his freedom, even
though he should be for ever despised as a negro thief in his native
town, and perhaps eternally lost through the blackness of his sin. No
Northerner could have come so close to the heart of a Kentucky feud, and
revealed it so perfectly, with the whimsicality playing through its
carnage, or could have so brought us into the presence of the sardonic
comi-tragedy of the squalid little river town where the store-keeping
magnate shoots down his drunken tormentor in the arms of the drunkard's
daughter, and then cows with bitter mockery the mob that comes to lynch

The influence of the West upon the character and genius of Mark Twain is
momentous and unmistakable. Mark Twain found room for development and
expansion in the primitive freedom of the West. It was here, I think,
that there were bred in him that breezy democracy of sentiment and that
hatred of sham and pretence which fill his writings from beginning to
end. In the West, virgin yet recalcitrant, every man stood--or fell--by
force of his own exertions; every man, without fear or favour, struggled
for fortune, for competence--or for existence. It was a case of the
survival of the fittest. In face of bleak Nature--the burning alkali
desert, the obdurate soil, the rock-ribbed mountains,--all men were free
and equal, in a camaraderie of personal effort. In this primitive
democracy, every man demanded for himself what he saw others getting.
The pretender, the hypocrite, the sham, the humbug soon went to the
wall, exposed in the nakedness of his own impotency. Humour is a
salutary aid in the struggle of the individual with the contrasts of
life; indeed it may be said to be born of the perception of those
contrasts. In a degree no whit inferior to the variegated river life,
the life of the West furnished contrasts and incongruities innumerable
--vaster perhaps, and more significant. There was the incessant contrast
of civilization with barbarism, of the East with the West; and there was
infinite play for the comic _expose_ of the credulous "tenderfoot" at
the hands of the pitiless cowboy. Roars of Gargantuan laughter shook
the skies as each new initiate unwittingly succumbed to the demoniac
wiles of his tormentors. The West was one vast theatre for the practice
of the "practical joke." Behind everything, menacing, foreboding,
tragic, lay the stupendous contrast between Man and Nature; and though
the miner, the granger, the cowboy laughed defiantly at civilization and
at Nature, there crept into the consciousness of each the conviction
that, in the long run, civilization must triumph, and that, in order to
win success, Nature must be conquered and subdued. In such an
environment, with its spirit of primitive democracy, its atmosphere of
wild and ribald jest, its contempt for the impostor, its perpetually
recurring incongruities, and behind all the solemn, perhaps tragic,
presence of inexorable Nature--in such an environment were sharpened and
whetted in Mark Twain the sense of humour, the spirit of real democracy
bred of competitive effort, and the hatred for pretence, sham, and

It was not, I think, until Mark Twain went to live in Connecticut and,
as he expressed it, became a scribbler of books, and an immovable
fixture among the other rocks of New England, that he developed complete
confidence in himself and his powers. That passion for successful
self-expression, which Mr. Nicholas Murray Butler has defined as the main
ambition of the American, became the dominant motive of Mark Twain's
life. Of his experience as a steamboat pilot, Mark Twain has said that
in that brief, sharp schooling he got personally and familiarly
acquainted with about all the different types of human nature that are
to be found in fiction, biography or history. In the West he had still
further enriched his mind with an inexhaustible store of first-hand
knowledge of human nature. In rotation he had been tramping jour
printer, river pilot, private secretary, miner, reporter, lecturer.
He now turns to literature in real earnest, and begins to display that
vast store of knowledge derived from actual contact with the infinitely
diversified realities of American life. Mark Twain takes on more and
more of the characteristics of the Yankee--those characteristics which
constitute the basis of his success: inventiveness and ingenuity, the
practical efficiency, the shrewdness and the hard common--sense. It is
the last phase in the formation of the national type.

It was, I venture to say, in some such way as this that Mark Twain came
to assume in the eyes of his countrymen an embodiment of the national
spirit. He was the self--made man in the self--made democracy. He was
at once his own creation and the creation of a democracy. There were
humorists in America before Mark Twain; there are humorists in America
still. But Mark Twain succeeded not merely in captivating the great
mass of the people; he achieved the far more difficult and unique
distinction of convincing his countrymen of his essential fellowship,
his temperamental affinity, with them. This miracle he wrought by the
frankest and most straightforward revelation of the actual experiences
in his own life and the lives of those he had known with perfect
intimacy. It is true that he wrote a few books dealing with other
times, other scenes, than our own in the present and in America. But I
daresay that his popularity with the mass of his countrymen would not
have been in any degree lessened had he never written these few books.
Indeed, it is hardly to be doubted that his books were successful in the
ratio of their autobiographic nature. For the character he revealed in
those books of his which are essentially autobiographic, is the
character dear to the American heart; and the experiences, vicissitudes,
and hardships, shot through and irradiated with a high boisterousness of
humour, found a joyous sympathy in the minds and hearts of men who had
all "been there" themselves. In Mark Twain the American people
recognized at last the sturdy democrat, independent of foreign
criticism; confident in the validity and value of his own ideas and
judgments; believing loyally in his country's institutions, and
upholding them fearlessly before the world; fundamentally serious and
self-reliant, yet with a practicality tempered by humane kindliness,
warmth of heart, and a strain of persistent idealism; rude, boisterous,
even uncouth, yet withal softened by sympathy for the under-dog, a
boundless love for the weak, the friendless, the oppressed; lacking in
profound intellectuality, yet supreme in the possession of the simple
and homely virtues--an upright and honourable character, a good citizen,
a man tenacious of the sanctity of the domestic virtues. America has
produced finer and more exalted types--giants in intellectuality,
princes in refinement and delicacy of spirit, savants in culture,
classics in authorship. An American type combining culture
with picturesqueness, refinement with patriotism, suavity with
self-reliance, desire it as we may, still awaits the imprimatur
of international recognition. America has sufficient cause for
gratification in the memory of that quaint and sturdy figure so
conspicuously bearing the national stamp and superscription. Perhaps no
American has equalled Mark Twain in the quality of subsuming and
embodying in his own character so many elements of the national spirit
and genius. In letters, in life, Mark Twain is the American _par

Underneath those qualities which combined to produce in Mark Twain a
composite American type, lay something deeper still--that indefinable
_je ne sais quoi_ which procured him international fame. Humour alone
is utterly inadequate for achieving so momentous a result--though humour
ostensibly constituted the burden of the appeal. As a matter of fact,
vehemently as the professors may deny it, Mark Twain was an artist of
remarkable force and power. From the days when he came under the
tutelage of Mr. Howells, and humbly learned to prune away his stylistic
superfluities of the grosser sort, Mark Twain indubitably began to
subject himself to the discipline of stern self-criticism. While it is
true that he never learned to realize in full measure, to use Pater's
phrase, "the responsibility of the artist to his materials," he
assuredly disciplined himself to make the most, in his own way, of the
rude and volcanic power which he possessed. It is fortunate that Mark
Twain never subjected himself to the refinements of academic culture; a
Harvard might well have spoiled a great author. For Mark Twain had a
memorable tale to tell of rude, primitive men and barbaric, remote
scenes and circumstances; of truant and resourceful boyhood exercising
all its cunning in circumventing circumstance and mastering a calling.
And he had that tale to tell in the unlettered, yet vastly expressive,
phraseology of the actors in those wild events. The secret of his style
is directness of thought, a sort of shattering clarity of utterance, and
a mastery of vital, vigorous, audacious individual expression. He had a
remarkable feeling for words and their uses; and his language is the
unspoiled, expressive language of the people. At times he is primitive
and coarse; but it is a Falstaffian note, the mark of universality
rather than of limitation. His art was, in Tolstoy's phrase, "the art
of a people--universal art"; and his style was rich in the locutions of
the common people, rich and racy of the soil. A signal merit of his
style is its admirable adaptation to the theme. The personages of his
novels always speak "in character"--with perfect reproduction, not only
of their natural speech, but also of their natural thoughts. Though Mr.
Henry James may have said that one must be a very rudimentary person to
enjoy Mark Twain, there is unimpeachable virtue in a rudimentary style
in treatment of rudimentary or,--as I should prefer to phrase it,
--fundamental things. Mr. James, I feel sure, could never have put into
the mouth of a "rudimentary" person like Huck, so vivid and graphic a
description of a storm with its perfect reproduction of the impression
caught by the "rudimentary" mind. "Writers of fiction," says Sir Walter
Besant in speaking of this book, "will understand the difficulty of
getting inside the brain of that boy, seeing things as he saw them,
writing as he would have written, and acting as he would have acted; and
presenting to the world true, faithful, and living effigies of that boy.
The feat has been accomplished; there is no character in fiction more
fully, more faithfully, presented than the character of Huckleberry
Finn. . . . It may be objected that the characters are extravagant.
Not so. They are all exactly and literally true; they are quite
possible in a country so remote and so primitive. Every figure in the
book is a type; Huckleberry Finn has exaggerated none. We see the life
--the dull and vacuous life--of a small township upon the Mississippi
River forty years ago. So far as I know, it is the only place where we
can find that phase of life portrayed."

Mark Twain impressed one always as writing with utter individuality
--untrammelled by the limitations of any particular sect of art. In his
books of travel, he reveals not only the instinct of the trained
journalist for the novel and the effective, but also the feeling of the
artist for the beautiful, the impressive, and the sublime. His
descriptions, of striking natural objects, such as the volcano of Mount
Kilauea in the Sandwich Islands, of memorable architecture, such as the
cathedral at Milan, show that he possessed the "stereoscopic
imagination" in rare degree. The picture he evokes of Athens by
moonlight, in the language of simplicity and restraint, ineffaceably
fixes itself in the fancy.

Mark Twain was regarded in France as a remarkable "impressionist" and
praised by the critics for the realistic accuracy and minuteness of his
delineation. Kipling frankly acknowledged the great debt that he owed
him. Tennyson spoke in high praise of his finesse in the choice of
words, his feeling for the just word to catch and, as it were, visualize
the precise shade of meaning desired. In truth, Mark Twain was an
impressionist, rather than an imaginative artist. That passage in
'A Yankee in King Arthur's Court' in which he describes an early morning
ride through the forest, pictorially evocative as it is, stands
self-revealed--a confusedly imaginative effort to create an image he has
never experienced.

If we set over beside this the remarkable descriptions of things seen,
as minutely evocative as instantaneous photographs--such, for example,
as the picture of a summer storm, or preferably, the picture of dawn on
the Mississippi, both from Huckleberry Finn--pictures Mark Twain had
seen and lived hundreds of times, we see at once the striking
superiority of the realistic impressionist over the imaginative artist.

I have always felt that the most lasting influence of his life--the
influence which has left the most pervasive impression upon his art and
thought--is portrayed in that classic and memorable passage in which he
portrays the marvellous spell laid upon him by that mistress of his
youth, the great river.

To the young pilot, the face of the water in time became a wonderful
book. For the uninitiated traveller it was a dead language, but to the
young pilot it gave up its most cherished secrets. He came to feel that
there had never been so wonderful a book written by man. To its
haunting beauty, its enfolding mystery, he yielded himself unreservedly
--drinking it in like one bewitched. But a day came when he began to
cease from noting its marvels. Another day came when he ceased
altogether to note them.

In time, he came to realize that, for him, the romance and the beauty
were gone forever from the river. If the early rapture was gone, in its
place was the deeper sense of knowledge and intimacy. He had learned
the ultimate secrets of the river--learned them with a knowledge, so
searching and so profound, that he was enabled to give them the enduring
investiture of art.

Mark Twain possessed the gift of innate eloquence. He was a master of
the art of moving, touching, swaying an audience. At times, his insight
into the mysterious springs of humour, of passion, and of pathos seemed
almost like divination. All these qualities appeared in full flower in
the written expression of his art. It would be doing a disservice to
his memory to deny that his style did not possess literary distinction
or elegance. At times his judgment was at fault; his constitutional
humour came near playing havoc with his artistic sense. Not seldom he
was long--winded and laborious in his striving after comic effect. To
offset these manifest lapses and defects there are the many fine
qualities--descriptive passages aglow with serene and cloud less beauty,
dramatic scenes depicted with virile and rugged eloquence, pathetic
incidents touched with gentle and caressing tenderness.

Style bears translation ill; in fact, translation is not infrequently
impossible. But Mr. Clemens once pointed out to me that humour has
nothing to do with style. Mark Twain's humour--for humour is his
prevalent mood--has international range since, constructed out of a
deep comprehension of human nature and a profound sympathy for human
relationship and human failing, it successfully surmounts the
difficulties of translation into alien tongues.

Mark Twain became a great international figure, not because he was an
American, paradoxical and unpatriotic as that may sound, but because he
was America's greatest cosmopolitan. He was a true cosmopolitan in the
Higginsonian sense, in that, unlike Mr. Henry James, he was "at home
even in his own country." He was a true cosmopolitan in the Tolstoyan
sense; for his was "art transmitting the simplest feelings of common
life, but such, always, as are accessible to all men in the whole world
--the art of common life--the art of a people--universal art." His
spirit grasped the true ideal of our time and reflected it.

Mr. Clemens attributed his international success not to qualities of
style, not to allegiance to any distinctive school, not to any
overtopping eminence of intellect. "Many so-called American humorists,"
he once remarked to me, "have been betrayed by their preoccupation with
the local. Their work never crossed frontiers because they failed to
impart to their humour that universal element which appeals to all races
of men. Realism is nothing more than close observation. But
observation will never give you the inside of the thing. The life,
the genius, the soul of a people are realized only through years of
absorption." Mr. Clemens asseverated that the only way to be a great
American humorist was to be a great human humorist--to discover in
Americans those permanent and universal traits common to all
nationalities. In his commentary upon Bourget's 'Outre Mer', he
declared that there wasn't a single human characteristic that could
safely be labelled "American"--not a single human detail, inside or
outside. Through years of automatic observation, Mark Twain learned to
discover for America, to adapt his own phrase, those few human
peculiarities that can be generalized and located here and there
in the world and named by the name of the nation where they are found.

Above all, I think, Mark Twain sympathized with and found something to
admire in the citizens of every nation, seeking beneath the surface
veneer the universal traits of that nation's humanity. He expressly
disclaimed in my presence any "attitude" toward the world, for the very
simple reason that his relation toward all peoples had been one of
effort at comprehension of their ideals, and identification with them in
feeling. He disavowed any colour prejudices, caste prejudices, or creed
prejudices--maintaining that he could stand any society. All that he
cared to know was that a man was a human being--that was bad enough for
him! It is a matter not of argument, but of fact, that Mark Twain has
made more damaging admissions concerning America than concerning any
other nation. Lafcadio Hearn best succeeded in interpreting poetry to
his Japanese students by freeing it from all artificial and local
restraints, and using as examples the simplest lyrics which go straight
to the heart and soul of man. His remarkable lecture on 'Naked Poetry'
is the most signal illustration of his profoundly suggestive mode of
interpretation. In the same way, Mark Twain as humorist has sought the
highest common factor of all nations. "My secret--if there is any
secret--," Mr. Clemens once said to me, "is to create humour independent
of local conditions. In studying humanity as exhibited in the people
and localities I best knew and understood, I have sought to winnow out
the encumbrance of the local." And he significantly added--musingly--"
Humour, like morality, has its eternal verities."

To the literature of the world, I venture to say, Mark Twain has
contributed: his masterpiece, that provincial Odyssey of the
Mississippi, 'Huckleberry Finn', a picaresque romance worthy to rank
with the very best examples of picaresque fiction;

'Tom Sawyer', only little inferior to its pendent story, which might
well be regarded as the supreme American morality--play of youth,
'Everyboy'; 'The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg', an ironic fable of
such originality and dexterous creation that it has no satisfactory
parallel in literature; the first half of 'Life on the Mississippi' and
all of 'Roughing It', for their reflections of the sociological phases
of a civilization now vanished forever. It is gratifying to Americans
to recognize in Mark Twain the incarnation of democratic America. It is
gratifying to citizens of all nationalities to recall and recapture the
pleasure and delight his works have given them for decades. It is more
gratifying still to rest confident in the belief that, in Mark Twain,
America has contributed to the world a genius sealed of the tribe of
Moliere, a congener of Le Sage, of Fielding, of Defoe--a man who will be
remembered, as Mr. Howells has said, "with the great humorists of all
time, with Cervantes, with Swift, or with any others worthy his company;
none of them was his equal in humanity."


"Diligently train your ideals upward and still upward
towards a summit where you will find your chiefest
pleasure in conduct which, while contenting you, will
be sure to confer benefits upon your neighbour and the
MARK TWAIN: 'What is Man?'

"The humorous writer," says Thackeray, "professes to awaken and direct
your love, your pity, your kindness, your scorn for untruth, pretension,
and imposture, your tenderness for the weak, the poor, the oppressed,
the unhappy. To the best of his means and ability he comments on all
the ordinary actions and passions of life almost. He takes upon himself
to be the week-day preacher, so to speak. Accordingly, as he finds, and
speaks, and feels the truth best, we regard him, esteem him.--sometimes
love him." This definition is apt enough to have been made with Mark
Twain in mind. In an earlier chapter, is displayed the comic phase of
Mark Twain's humour. Beneath that humour, underlying it and informing
it, is a fund of human concern, a wealth of seriousness and pathos, and
a universality of interests which argue real power and greatness. These
qualities, now to be discussed, reveal Mark Twain as serious enough to
be regarded as a real moralist and philosopher, humane enough to be
regarded as, in spirit, a true sociologist and reformer.

It must be recognised that the history of literature furnishes forth no
great international figure, whose fame rests solely upon the basis of
humour, however human, however sympathetic, however universal that
humour may be. Behind that humour must lurk some deeper and more
serious implication which gives breadth and solidity to the art-product.
Genuine humour, as Landor has pointed out, requires a "sound and
capacious mind, which is always a grave one." There is always a breadth
of philosophy, a depth of sadness, or a profundity of pathos in the very
greatest humorists. Both Rabelais and La Fontaine were reflective
dreamers; Cervantes fought for the progressive and the real in pricking
the bubble of Spanish chivalry; and Moliere declared that, for a man in
his position, he could do no better than attack the vices of his time
with ridiculous likenesses. Though exhibiting little of the melancholy
of Lincoln, Mark Twain revelled in the same directness of thought and
expression, showed the same zest for broad humour reeking with the
strong but pungent flavour of the soil. Though expressing distaste for
Franklin's somewhat cold and almost mercenary injunctions, Mark Twain
nevertheless has much of his Yankee thrift, shrewdness, and bed-rock
common sense. Beneath and commingled with all his boyish and exuberant
fun is a note of pathos subdued but unmistakable, which rings true
beside the forced and extravagant pathos of Dickens. His Southern
hereditament of chivalry, his compassion for the oppressed and his
defence of the down-trodden, were never in abeyance from the beginning
of his career to the very end. Like Joel Chandler Harris, that genial
master of African folk-lore, Mark Twain found no theme of such absorbing
interest as human nature. Like Fielding, he wrote immortal narratives
in which the prime concern is not the "story," but the almost scientific
revelation of the natural history of the characters. The corrosive and
mordant irony of many a passage in Mark Twain, wherein he holds up to
scorn the fraudulent and the artificial, the humbug, the hypocrite, the
sensualist, are not unworthy of the colossal Swift. That "disposition
for hard hitting with a moral purpose to sanction it," which George
Meredith pronounces the national disposition of British humour, is Mark
Twain's unmistakable hereditament. It is, perhaps, because he relates
us to our origins, as Mr. Brander Matthews has suggested, that Mark
Twain is the foremost of American humorists.

In the preface to the Jumping Frog, published as far back as 1867, Mark
Twain was dubbed, not only "the wild humorist of the Pacific slope," but
also "the moralist of the Main." The first book which brought him great
popularity, 'The Innocents Abroad', exhibited qualities of serious
ethical import which, while escaping the attention of the readers of
that day, emerge for the moderns from the welter of hilarious humour.
How unforgettable is his righteous indignation over that "benefit"
performance he witnessed in Italy!

The ingrained quality in Mark Twain, which perhaps more than any other
won the enthusiastic admiration of his fellow Americans, was this: he
always had the courage of his convictions. He writes of things, classic
and hallowed by centuries, with a freshness of viewpoint, a total
indifference to crystallized opinion, that inspire tremendous respect
for his courage, even when one's own convictions are not engaged. The
"beautiful love story of Abelard and Heloise" will never, I venture to
say, recover its pristine glory--now that Mark Twain has poured over
Abelard the vials of his wrath.

Those who know only the Mark Twain of the latter years, with his deep,
underlying seriousness, his grim irony, and his passion for justice and
truth, find difficulty in realizing that, in his earlier days, the joker
and the buffoon were almost solely in evidence. In answer to a query of
mine as to the reason for the serious spirit that crept into and gave
carrying power to his humour, Mr. Clemens frankly replied: "I never
wrote a serious word until after I married Mrs. Clemens. She is solely
responsible--to her should go the credit--for any deeply serious or
moral influence my subsequent work may exert. After my marriage, she
edited everything I wrote. And what is more--she not only edited my
works, she edited ME! After I had written some side-splitting story,
something beginning seriously and ending in preposterous anti-climax,
she would say to me: 'You have a true lesson, a serious meaning to
impart here. Don't give way to your invincible temptation to destroy
the good effect of your story by some extravagantly comic absurdity.
Be yourself! Speak out your real thoughts as humorously as you please,
but--without farcical commentary. Don't destroy your purpose with an
ill-timed joke.' I learned from her that the only right thing was to
get in my serious meaning always, to treat my audience fairly, to let
them really feel the underlying moral that gave body and essence to my

The quality with which Mark Twain invests his disquisitions upon morals,
upon conscience, upon human foibles and failings, is the charm of the
humorist always--never the grimness of the moralist or the coldness of
the philosopher. He observes all human traits, whether of moral
sophistry or ethical casuistry, with the genial sympathy of a lover of
his kind irradiated with the riant comprehension of the humorist. And
yet at times there creeps into his tone a note of sincere and manly
pathos, unmistakable, irresistible. One has only to read the beautiful,
tender tale of the blue jay in 'A Tramp Abroad' to know the beauty and
the depth of his feeling for nature and her creatures, his sense of
kinship with his brothers of the animal kingdom.

In our first joyous and headlong interest in the narrative of
'Huckleberry Finn', its rapid succession of continuously arresting
incidents, its omnipresent yet never intrusive humour, the deeper
significance of many a passage in that contemporary classic is likely to
escape notice. Sir Walter Besant, who revelled in it as one of the most
completely satisfying and delightful of books, speaks of it deliberately
as a book without a moral. Perhaps he was deceived by the foreword:
"Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be
prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished;
persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot." There never was
a more easy-going, care-free, unpuritanical lot than Huck and Jim, the
two farcical "hoboes," Tom Sawyer, and the rest. And yet in the light
of Mark Twain's later writings one cannot but see in that picaresque
romance, with its pleasingly loose moral atmosphere, an underlying
seriousness and conviction. Jim is a simple, harmless negro, childlike
and primitive; yet, so marvellous, so restrained is the art of the
narrator, that imperceptibly, unconsciously, one comes to feel not only
a deep interest in, but a genuine respect for, this innocent fugitive
from slavery. Mr. Booker Washington, a distinguished representative of
his race, said he could not help feeling that, in the character of Jim,
Mark Twain had, perhaps unconsciously, exhibited his sympathy for and
interest in the masses of the negro people.

Indeed, to the reflective mind--and it is to be presumed that by that
standard Mark Twain's works will ultimately be judged--there is no more
significant passage in Huckleberry Finn than that in which Huck
struggles with his conscience over the knotty problem of his moral
responsibility for compassing Jim's emancipation. Nothing else is
needed to show at once Mark Twain's preoccupation with the workings of
human conscience in the unsophisticated mind and his conviction that,
with the "lights that he had," Huck was justified in his courageous

Huck felt deeply repentant for allowing Jim to escape from the innocent,
inoffending Miss Watson. He became consumed with horror and remorse to
hear Jim making plans for stealing his wife and children, if their
masters wouldn't sell them. His conscience kept stirring him up hotter
than ever when he heard Jim talking to himself about the joys of
freedom. After awhile, Huck decided to write a letter to Miss Watson,
informing her of the whereabouts of her "runaway nigger." After writing
that letter, he felt washed clean of sin, uplifted, exalted. But he
could not forget all the goodness and tenderness of poor Jim, who had
shown himself so profoundly grateful. Though he faced the torments of
Puritanical damnation as a consequence, he resolved to let Jim go free.
Humanity triumphed over conscience--and with an "All right, then, I'll
go to hell," he tore up the letter.

One of Mark Twain's favourite themes for the display of his humour was
the subject of prevarication. He seemed never to tire of ringing the
changes upon the theme of the lie, its utility, its convenience, and its
consequences. Doubtless he chose to dabble in falsehood because it is
generally winked at as the most venial of all moral obliquities--a fault
which is the most thoroughly universal of all that flesh is heir to.
The incident of George Washington and the cherry tree furnished the
basis for countless of his anecdotes; he wrung from it variations
innumerable, from the epigram to the anecdote. His distinction between
George Washington and himself, redounding immeasurably to his own glory,
and demonstrating his complete superiority to Washington as a moral
character, is classic: "George Washington couldn't tell a lie. I can;
but I won't." Perhaps his most humorous anecdote, based upon the same
story, is in connection with the exceedingly old "darky" he once met in
the South, who claimed to have crossed the Delaware with Washington.
"Were you with Washington," asked Mark Twain mischievously, "when he
took that hack at the cherry tree?" This was a poser for the old
darkey; his pride was appealed to, his very character was at stake.
After an awkward hesitation, the old darkey spoke up, a gleam of
simulated recollection (and real gratification for his convenient
memory) overspreading his countenance: "Lord, boss, I was dar. In
cose I was. I was with Marse George at dat very time. In fac--I done
druv dat hack myself"!

Mark Twain's most delightful trick as a popular humorist was to strike
out some comic epigram, that passed currency with the masses whose fancy
it tickled, and also had upon it the minted stamp of the classic
aphorism. These epigrams were frequently pseudo-moral in their nature;
and their humour usually lay in the assumption that everybody is
habitually addicted to prevarication--which is just precisely true
enough and reprehensible enough to validate the epigram. His method was
humorous inversion; and he told a story whose morals are so ludicrously
twisted that the right moral, by contrast, spontaneously springs to
light. "Never tell a lie--except for practice," is less successful than
the more popularly known "When in doubt, tell the truth." Out of the
latter maxim he succeeded in extracting a further essence of humour. He
admitted inventing the maxim, but never expected it to be applied to
himself. His advice, he said, was intended for other people; when he
was in doubt himself, he used more sagacity! Mark Twain has made no
more delightful epigram than that one in which he recognizes that a lie,
morally reprehensible as it may be, is undoubtedly an ever present help
in time of need: "Never waste a lie. You never know when you may need

Sometimes in a humorous, sometimes in a grimly serious way, Mark Twain
was fond of drawing the distinction between theoretical and practical
morals. Theoretical morals, he would point out, are the sort you get on
your mother's knee, in good books, and from the pulpit. You get them
into your head, not into your heart. Only by the commission of crime
can anyone acquire real morals. Commit all the crimes in the decalogue,
take them in rotation, persevere in this stern determination--and after
awhile you will thereby attain to moral perfection! It is not enough to
commit just one crime or two--though every little bit helps. Only by
committing them all can you achieve real morality! It is interesting to
note this distinction between Mark Twain, the humorous moralist, and
Bernard Shaw, the ethical thinker. Each teaches precisely the same
thing--the one not even half seriously, the other with all the sharp
sincerity of conviction. Shaw unhesitatingly declares that trying to be
wicked is precisely the same experiment as trying to be good, viz., the
discovery of character.

The range of Mark Twain's humour, from the ludicrous anecdote with
comically mixed morals to the profound parable with grimly ironic
conclusion, takes the measure of the ethical nature of the man. It can
best be illustrated, I think, by a comparison of his anecdote of the
theft of the green water-melon and the classic fable of 'The Man that
Corrupted Hadleyburg'. Mark stole a water-melon out of a farmer's
wagon, while he wasn't looking. Of course stole was too harsh a term
--he withdrew, he retired that water-melon. After getting safely away to
a secluded spot, he broke the water-melon open--only to find that it was
green, the greenest water-melon of the year.

The moment he saw that the water-melon was green, he felt sorry. He
began to reflect--for reflection is the beginning of reform. It is only
by reflecting on some crime you have committed, that you are
"vaccinated" against committing it again.

So Mark began to reflect. And his reflections were of this nature: What
ought a boy to do who has stolen a green water-melon? What would George
Washington, who never told a lie, have done? He decided that the only
real, right thing for any boy to do, who has stolen a water-melon of
that class, is to make restitution. It is his duty to restore it to its
rightful owner. So rising up, spiritually strengthened and refreshed by
his noble resolution, Mark restored the water--melon--what there was
left of it--to the farmer and--made the farmer give him a ripe one in
its place! Thus he clinched the "moral" of this story, so quaint and so
ingenious; and concluded that only in some such way as this could one be
fortified against further commission of crime. Only thus could one
become morally perfect!

Here, as in countless other places, Mark Twain throws over his ethical
suggestion--a suggestion, by contrast, of the very converse of his
literal words--the veil of paradox and exaggeration, of incongruity,
fantasy, light irony. Yet beneath this outer covering of art there is
a serious meaning that, like murder, will out. If demonstration were
needed that Mark Twain is sealed of the tribe of moralists, that is
amply supplied by that masterpiece, that triumph of invention,
construction, and originality, 'The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg'.
Here is a pure morality, daring in the extreme and incredibly original
in a world perpetually reiterating a saying already thousands of years
old, to the effect that there is nothing new under the sun. It is a
deliberate emendation of that invocation in the Lord's Prayer "Lead us
(not) into temptation." The shrieking irony of this trenchant parable,
its cynicism and heartlessness, would make of it an unendurable
criticism of human life--were it accepted literally as a representation
of society. In essence it is a morality pure and simple, animated not
only by its brilliantly original ethical suggestion, but also by its
illuminating reflection of human nature and its graciously relieving
humour. In that exultant letter which the _Diabolus ex machina_ wrote
to the betrayed villagers, he sneers at their old and lofty reputation
for honesty--that reputation of which they were so inordinately proud
and vain. The weak point in their armour was disclosed so soon as he
discovered how carefully and vigilantly they kept themselves and their
children out of temptation. For he well knew that the weakest of all
weak things is a virtue that has not been tested in the fire. The
familiar distinction between innocence and virtue springs to mind. And
it is worthy of consideration that Nietzsche, and Shaw after him, both
point out that virtue consists, not in resisting evil, but in not
desiring it! 'The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg' is a masterpiece,
eminently worthy of the genius of a Swift. It proclaims Mark Twain not
only as a supreme artist, but also as eminently and distinctively a

It is impossible to think of Mark Twain in his maturer development as
other than a moralist. My personal acquaintance with Mr. Clemens
convinced me--had I needed to be convinced--that in his later years he
had striven to grapple nobly with many of the deeper issues of life,
character and morality, public, religious and social, as well as
personal and private. I never knew anyone who thought so "straight,"
or who expressed himself with such simple directness upon questions
affecting religion and conduct. He was absolutely fearless in his
condemnation of those subsidized "ministers" of the Gospel in
cosmopolitan centres, who, through self-interest, cut their moral
disquisitions to fit the predilections of their wealthy parishioners,
many of whom were under national condemnation as "malefactors of great
wealth." Animated by love for all creatures, the defenceless wild
animal as well as the domestic pet, he was unsparing in his indictment
of those big-game hunters who shamelessly described their feelings of
savage exultation when some poor animal served as the target for their
skill, and staggered off wounded unto death. His sympathy for the
natives of the Congo was profound and intense; and his philippic against
King Leopold for the atrocities he sanctioned called the attention of
the whole world to conditions that constituted a disgrace to modern
civilization. His diatribe against the Czar of Russia for his
inhumanity to the serfs was an equally convincing proof of his noble
determination to throw the whole weight of his influence in behalf of
suffering and oppressed humanity. Some years before his death, he told
me that he never intended to speak in public again save in behalf of
movements, humanitarian and uplifting, which gave promise of effecting
civic betterment and social improvement.

I have always felt a peculiar and personal debt of gratitude to Mark
Twain for three events--for the publication of such works can be
dignified with no less eminent characterization. When Mr. Edward Dowden
tried to make out the best case for Shelley that he could, it was at the
sacrifice of the reputation of the defenceless Harriet Westbrook. That
ingrained chivalry which is the defining characteristic of the
Southerner, the sympathy for the oppressed, the compassion for the weak
and the defenceless, animated Mark Twain to one of the noblest actions
of his career. For his defence of Harriet Westbrook is something more
than a work, it is an act--an act of high courage and nobility. With
words icily cold in their logic, Mark Twain tabulated the six pitifully
insignificant charges against Harriet, such as her love for dress and
her waning interest in Latin lessons, and set over against them the six
times repeated name of Cornelia Turner, that fascinating young married
woman who read Petrarch with Shelley and sat up all hours of the night
with him--because he saw visions when he was alone! Again, in his 'Joan
of Arc', Mark Twain erected a monument of enduring beauty to that simple
maid of Orleans, to whom the Roman Catholic Church has just now paid the
merited yet tardy tribute of canonization. It is a sad commentary upon
the popular attitude of frivolity towards the professional humorist that
Mark Twain felt compelled to publish this book anonymously, in order
that the truth and beauty of that magic story might receive its just
meed of respectful and sympathetic attention.

The third act for which I have always felt deeply grateful to Mark Twain
is the apparently little known, yet beautiful and significant story
entitled 'Was it Heaven or Hell?' It contains, I believe, the moral
that had most meaning for Mark Twain throughout his entire life--the
bankruptcy of rigidly formal Puritanism in the face of erring human
nature, the tragic result of heedlessly holding to the letter, instead
of wisely conforming to the spirit, of moral law. No one doubts that
Mark Twain--as who would not?--believed, aye, knew, that this sweet,
human child went to a heaven of forgiveness and mercy, not to a hell of
fire and brimstone, for her innocently trivial transgression. The essay
on Harriet Shelley, the novel of 'Joan of Arc', and the story 'Was it
Heaven or Hell?' are all, as decisively as the philippic against King
Leopold, the diatribe against the Czar of Russia, essential vindications
of the moral principle. 'Was it Heaven or Hell?' in its simple pathos,
'The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg' in its morally salutary irony,
present vital evidence of that same transvaluation of current moral
values which marks the age of Nietzsche and Ibsen, of Tolstoy and Shaw.
In that amusing, naive biography of her father, little Susy admits that
he could make exceedingly bright jokes and could be extremely amusing;
but she maintains that he was more interested in earnest books and
earnest conversation than in humorous ones. She pronounced him to be as
much of a Pholosopher (sic) as anything. And she hazards the opinion
that he might have done a great deal in this direction if only he had
studied when he was a boy!

Years ago, Mark Twain wrote a book which he called 'An Extract from
Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven'. For long he desisted from
publishing it because of his fear that its outspoken frankness would
appear irreverent and shock the sensibilities of the public. While his
villa of "Stormfield" was in course of erection several years ago, he
discovered that half of it was going to cost what he had expected to
pay for the whole house. His heart was set on having a loggia or
sun-parlour; and when it seemed that he would have to sacrifice this
apple of his eye through lack of funds, he threw discretion to the winds,
hauled out Captain Stormfield and made the old tar pay the piper. His
fears as to its reception were wholly unwarranted; for it was generously
enjoyed for its shrewd and vastly suggestive ideas on religion and heaven
as popularly taught nowadays from the pulpits. This book is full of a
keen and bluff common sense, cannily expressed in the words of an old
sea-captain whom Mark Twain had known intimately. It is only another
link in the chain of evidence which goes to prove that Mark Twain had
thought long and deeply upon the problematical nature of a future life.
It is, in essence, a _reductio ad absurdum_ of those professors of
religion who still preach a heaven of golden streets and pearly gates, of
idleness and everlasting psalm-singing, of restful and innocuous bliss.
Mark Twain wanted to point out the absurdity of taking the allegories and
the figurative language of the Bible literally. Of course everybody
called for a harp and a halo as soon as they reached heaven. They were
given the harps and halos--indeed nothing harmless and reasonable was
refused them. But they found these things the merest accessories. Mark
Twain's heaven was just the busiest place imaginable. There weren't any
idle people there after the first day. The old sea captain pointed out
that singing hymns and waving palm branches through all eternity was all
very pretty when you heard about it from the pulpit, but that it was a
mighty poor way to put in valuable time. He took no stock in a heaven of
warbling ignoramuses. He found that Eternal Rest, reduced to hard pan,
was not as comforting as it sounds in the pulpit. Heaven is the merited
reward of service; and the opportunities for service were infinite. As
he said, you've got to earn a thing square and honest before you can
enjoy it. To Mark, this was "about the sensiblest heaven" he had ever
heard of. He mourned a little over the discovery that what a man mostly
missed in heaven was company. But he rejoiced in the information
vouchsafed by his friend the Captain--a valuable piece of information
that leaves him, and all who are so fortunate as to hear it, the better
for the knowledge--that happiness isn't a thing in itself, but only a
contrast with something that isn't pleasant! This view of heaven, seen
through the temperament of a humorist and a philosopher, is provocative
and thought-compelling more than it is amusing or ludicrous. I think it
inspired Bernard Shaw's Aerial Foot-ball which won Collier's thousand
dollar prize--a prize which Mr Shaw hurled back with indignation and

Mark Twain was a great humorist--more genial than grim, more
good-humoured than ironic, more given to imaginative exaggeration than to
intellectual sophistication, more inclined to pathos than to melancholy.
He was a great story-teller and fabulist; and he has enriched the
literature of the world with a gallery of portraits so human in their
likenesses as to rank them with the great figures of classic comedy and
picaresque romance. He was a remarkable observer and faithful reporter,
never allowing himself, in Ibsen's phrase, to be "frightened by the
venerableness of the institution"; and his sublimated journalism reveals
a mastery of the naively comic thoroughly human and democratic. He is
the most eminent product of our American democracy, and, in profoundly
shocking Great Britain by preferring Connecticut to Camelot, he exhibited
that robustness of outlook, that buoyancy of spirit, and that faith in
the contemporary which stamps America in perennial and inexhaustible
youth. Throughout his long life, he has been a factor of high ethical
influence in our civilization, and the philosopher and the humanitarian
look out through the twinkling eyes of the humorist.

And yet, after all, Mark Twain's supreme title to distinction as a great
writer inheres in his natural, if not wholly conscious, mastery in that
highest sphere of thought, embracing religion, philosophy, morality and
even humour, which we call sociology. When I first advanced this view,
it was taken up on all sides. Here, we were told, was Mark Twain "from
a new angle"; the essay was reviewed at length on the continent of
Europe; and the author of the essay was invited "to explain Mark Twain
to the German public"! There are still many people, however, who resent
any demonstration that Mark Twain was anything more than a mirthful and
humorous entertainer. Mr. Bernard Shaw once remarked to me, in support
of the view here outlined, that he regarded Poe and Mark Twain as
America's greatest achievements in literature, and that he thought of
Mark Twain primarily, not as humorist, but as sociologist. "Of course,"
he added, "Mark Twain is in much the same position as myself: he has to
put matters in such a way as to make people who would otherwise hang
him, believe he is joking."

Mark Twain once said that whenever he had diverged from custom and
principle to utter a truth, the rule had been that the hearer hadn't
strength of mind enough to believe it. "Custom is a petrifaction," he
asserted; "nothing but dynamite can dislodge it for a century." Mr. W.
D. Howells has advanced the somewhat fanciful theory that "the ludicrous
incongruity of a slave-holding democracy nurtured upon the Declaration
of Independence, and the comical spectacle of white labour owning black
labour, had something to do in quickening (in Mark Twain) the sense of
contrast which is the mountain of humour or is said to be so." However
that may be, Mark Twain was irresistibly driven to the conclusion,
Southern born though he was, that slavery was unjust, inhuman, and
indefensible. The advanced thinkers in the South had reached this
conclusion long before the beginning of the Civil War, and many Southern
men had actually devised freedom to their slaves in their wills. The
slaves were treated humanely, their material wants were cared for by
their owners with a care that can only be called loving, and their
spiritual welfare was the frequent concern in particular of the mistress
of the house.

In his schoolboy days, Mark Twain had no aversion to slavery. He wasn't
even aware that there was anything wrong about it. He never heard it


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