The thousands of people who have loved the great author for his works seldom thought of him as Samuel Langhorne Clemens. To them he was always Mark Twain, a writer of inimitable humor, whose voluminous writings were read with the keenest enjoyment. His life was long and varied. He had known hardship and he had known failure, but he had known as complete literary success as any modern writer. The success of "The Jumping Frog of Calaveras" was probably as great a surprise to him as it was to his publishers. It opened a new variety of humor, which is always welcome in America. When this was followed by "Innocents Abroad" and then by "Roughing It" the fame of Mark Twain as a popular writer of entertaining books was established. "Old Times on the Mississippi," "Tom Sawyer," and "Huckleberry Finn" gave to the reading public a delightful and intimate view of a phase of American life which was enjoyed as well by those who were not personally familiar with it as by those who were to the manner born.
Mr. Clemens had a genially eccentric personality. He was always saying and doing things that no one else thought of saying or doing. But his wit was not vindictive or malicious. It never cut nor bit. It really came to the point where people always expected him to say something that would cause the immediate laugh and would leave no after-bitterness to rankle; and he seldom failed them. Particularly was this true when he appeared as a lecturer or an after-dinner speaker, in both of which capacities there was a great demand for him until the infirmities of age made it necessary for him to husband his strength. But even then he did not cease his work. Mentally he was as active as ever and the productions of his pen continued to appear in the magazines and in book form until almost the very end. If anything his imaginings appeared to grow quainter with his increasing years.
The sterling integrity of his character was manifested by his heroic struggle to meet the obligations of the publishing firm in which he had been interested and which failed disastrously. At an age when most men are ready to retire from the fiercer activities of life he gave himself no peace and no rest until by his lectures and his pen he had paid off every dollar. It was the feat of Sir Walter Scott over again.
While one thinks of Mark Twain first and foremost as a great humorist, yet he was more than that. Along with his humor there is depth of insight -- penetration into human life and character, keen and searching and true. As a recent writer has said:
Three decades ago the literary specialists and arbiters of belles-lettres dismissed Mark Twain with the phrase, "professional humorist." But the critics began to see more clearly as the years mellowed "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn" into classics. Their standards became less academic, broader and more humane, and the change was marked by a universal acceptance of Mark Twain as a creator of racy American types, as an artist who had caught and preserved for posterity the rich, quaint flavor in certain fascinating phases of native life. A genuine humorist, yes, let it be said to his eternal honor, yet one who was not content with merely tickling the ribs, but who reached the hearts that beat beneath them. He was like Cervantes in making people laugh first and think afterward. Three generations grinned and made merry of "Don Quixote" before anyone realized that it was anything more than merely a funny tale; the same phenomenon, upon a smaller scale, might be recorded of "Huckleberry Finn."
There are few persons who have either known Mark Twain or have read his works that will not experience a feeling of sorrow at his death. It leaves a void that will probably never be filled in a branch of literature that is peculiarly American. For he was thoroughly American in sentiment, manner and methods.