This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
  • 1910
Buy it on Amazon Listen via Audible FREE Audible 30 days

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 Hawley.”

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 life:

“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 tears:

“_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 laughter.”

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 addressed:


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 spectacle.

“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 country.”

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, grossdimensionalen_.

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 him.”

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 imposture.

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 excellence_.

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 community.”
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 jest.”

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 decision.

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 it.”

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 moralist.

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 scorn!

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