If Mark Twain is the representative American humorist American humor is rather a sorry product. That he is funny no one can deny; that his exaggerations are grotesque is also true; but that his wit is brilliant or his humor suggestive cannot be truly claimed. His fun leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination. It is like machine work. Take his story of the theft of the watermelon. There is hardly an incident in every day life that could not be made amusing if told as he told that story. The fun of that story consisted in the way it was told, not in the story itself. That is, it depended upon the tricks of the comedian, not upon the wit or humor underlying the thought. His sketch of Huck Finn and Nigger Jim was very different. Here the basal idea was the struggle between "a good heart and a half-educated conscience," and it was admirably brought out. The sketch of the night spent in his father's office with the corpse was neither funny nor gruesome. It would have been intolerable if it were not for a few cute expressions, such as: "I took the sash out of the window with me. I did not really want the sash," and so on. Deprived of these it was simply a good story, badly told. Mr. Clement's [sic] studied awkwardness of manner helps what he says wonderfully, and his peculiar tone of voice is a potent adjunct to his fun. The audience was greatly amused, but it is also true that they were somewhat disappointed. Mark Twain can tell a story very much better than most men; he can see the droll aspect of things as few others can; but he has little creative genius. His published works show that.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Mark Twain Again Proves His Greatness as a Humorist.
FLOWING STREAM OF DROLLERY
There is but one Mark Twain. He is not classic, and he is just as far from being conventional; but people like him and listen to him all the more because he is himself. Last night at the Seattle theater a crowded audience heard him for an hour and a half with unwearying enjoyment as he gave one of those strange medleys of humor and philosophy which have so much the sound of a great literary improvisation. To tell the story of such a lecture is like trying to narrate a laugh. Those who heard it enjoyed it, and those who did not cannot conceive of it.
The string on which the great humorist strung the many anecdotes and jests that made up the body of the evening's entertainment was a pretended moral lecture, which he said he had in mind to work out at his leisure. Thus he would tell some droll story and draw therefrom some far-fetched moral, which found its chief pith and merit in being far-fetched. The following will serve as a poor sample of a dozen of its kind:
"When I was a boy my father lived in a little Missouri village on the banks of the Mississippi river. The place was so small that it was necessary for one man to hold several such offices as coroner, mayor, postmaster, in order to maintain the dignity of each. My father was the incumbent. He had a small office built wherein his numerous functions were discharged. It was not often that he got to act as coroner, but now and then the community furnished a corpse. In the office was a sofa, which was to me a very useful article of furniture. We boys were told not to go fishing. For that reason we went. On returning from one of these excursions, I did not care to go at once into the home circle. I preferred letting the home atmosphere cool down till next morning. Accordingly I would creep into that office and use that sofa as a bed.
"One day there had been a fight in the village while I was out fishing. One man had killed another with a bowie knife. The corpse had been stripped to the waist and laid out on the floor of the little office ready for the inquest next morning. Late at night I came in, ignorant of what had occurred. I crept to the sofa was just sinking into the deep, sweet sleep which is the reward of honest toil when a strange feeling came over me as I thought I saw some uncanny object on the floor. I first resolve to feel it, but concluded I would wait. Just beyond it were some squares of moonlight on the floor and I decided to wait till the moonlight crept along to where the thing lay. Only those who have waited for the moon at midnight know how slow it is. At last there lay a pallid human hand in the ghostly light. I tried to turn over and count a thousand till the moon should reveal what I knew now was there, but I got no further than seventy-five. After what seemed an interminable time, the white, muscular arm, then the rigid, set face, then the body with the knife wound on the left side came into view. I went away from there. I do not mean to imply that I left hurriedly. I simply went. I went through the window. I took the sash along with me. I did not have any special use for the sash, but under the circumstances it was easier to take it than it was to leave it.
"Now, in planning my great lecture on morals, I mean to introduce this story to illustrate the principle that early in life a young man should certainly gauge his limitations. He should know just exactly how brave he is, how far he can rely on his own courage before he is compelled to begin to use his discretion."
In similar vein the lecturer gave the story of the bucking horse from his "Roughing It," which he said he proposed to use in his great lecture "to show that we should be careful how we make the acquaintance of strangers." Then he shot off at a merry tangent to say that Mount Ranier had been pursuing this policy toward him during his first visit. To illustrate the moral that conclusions must not be drawn hastily, the gave the story of the preacher's long baptismal harangue over what he supposed to be a boy baby, till the name of Mary Ann was announced. In much the same tone followed the story of the grandfather and the ram, and of Jim and Huckleberry Finn when these two worthies were running away, and of "My first theft."
Leaving this hypothetical lecture on morals, Mr. Clemens was proceeding to give the substance of his famous essay on the German language, when a rough voice from the gallery cried out: "Haf you been to Heidelberg?" "Yes," retorted the lecturer, with ready wit; "I studied German there and I learned many other things there also, among them how to drink beer." The questioner subsided.
As a conclusion, Mr. Clemens gave his famous ghost story. It was the strongest piece given by him, or rather, he gave it most strongly, and when the unexpected denouement was reached there was many a sudden jump among those who had been betrayed into breathless expectancy through the weird magic of the well-told dialect story.
As a mark of honor Mr. Clemens was called before the curtain, and in response he gave "The Stammerer" in mirth-provoking style.
Among those who occupied boxes were the members of the Torbert Concert company, who appear at the Seattle theater on Saturday night. Major Pond speaks in the highest terms of this company, Miss Torbert being, in fact, a protoge of his, his first appearance with her dating from her membership in Beecher's church.