[Both these appreciations appeared in the April 30th
edition of Collier's, the first on the magazine's
editorial page, the second among the articles.]
A Gentle Man, if that abused title may have any significance
restored to it, was Mark Twain. Good and ill fortune made trial
of his finely tempered spirit, and success could not spoil nor
adversity embitter him. His humor might play like summer
lightning over the range of human weakness, but his compassion
was warm and universal as the rain. America has lost as much in
the man as in the writer.
His pen knew neither fear nor reverence, yet he dipped it
tenderly in the heart of childhood. He asked for no exceptions
from human hardship, and he gave out in the last year of his
life, when a great sorrow came to him, a glow as of a spirit
about to be released.
To call Mark Twain a humorist merely would be to describe
Shakespeare as a strolling player. More than one generation has
drunk at the well-head of his tonic and sane philosophy.
A letter written a few weeks before his death showed him
notwithstanding his courage to have felt that darkness was
closing in. He wrote from Bermuda: "There is not another orphan
who is so wrecked, so ruined, so forsaken, as I am. Just a
battered old derelict washing about the wastes of the great seas,
with nobody on the bridge."
America is poorer, in Mr. Clemen's death, by the loss of great
and gracious personality: there is a void, not to be filled, in
the hearts of those whom he surrounded with his friendship: but
who shall say he has not earned that honorable and anxiously
awaited resting-place beside Jean and Susie and their mother? He
has left to those he loved a stainless memory and to this nation
a lasting heritage of smiles and tears.
Mark Twain: An American Pioneer in Man's Oldest Art,
Happy among creative artists is the humorist. He strikes
as deep into life as his neglected brothers who deal in pain and
tragedy. But he alone carries the people with him. He has their
good will, while he interprets their life to them. And only at
his death is there sadness because of him. The more he made them
merry, the richer the grief. And there are few peoples to-day on
the earth where there is no sense of loss because MARK TWAIN
died. He would have been seventy-five years old in November, and
in the final months had suffered much pain.
Whose Death Is Mourned by the World at Large
Printer's devil and Mississippi pilot, cub reporter, pioneer,
miner, and tramp royal, he knew life, and got the rough stuff out
of which to spin his cloth of gold from reality itself. He had
lived the life from nocessity, and then wrote it out.
His sense of the vast innate humor of things was beaten into
the fiber of him by the Nevada years, when he was territorial
secretary in the State of Nevada. Those were great days. It was a
life that couldn't stand the swiftest theatrical show for ten
minutes running, but in its panting restlessness clamored for
poker and drink and dancing and barbaric music. Partly a
glorified picnic, full of easy nuggets and dramatic high lights,
and then again tragic and bitter, where sweat and blood dropped
A Western man has said of him: "A good many people think MARK
TWAIN is a natural-born humorist. He isn't. He simply described
the things he saw in Nevada and got the habit."
The tumult of that life never forsook him. It passed into the
color and startling suddenness of his prose. A land that was
unexpected and vast, and men who were irreverent, ironic,
fearless and sincere, what was left to do but hive the honey from
those unreaped fields?
In the teeth of the schools, he broke away from the gentle
reminiscent New England tradition, and struck out a trail as new
and sure as that of ABRAHAM LINCOLN in statecraft. He was an
American in every line of his mirthful copy, and it was a
generation before the critics caught up and knew it for
literature, and ANDREW LANG called it Homeric.
Leaping into the public eye with the overburdened life of the
Calaveras frog who couldn't jump because of his meal of buckshot,
he hit his public yet harder with "Innocents Abroad," which
showed the ignorant and unashamed American tourist thrust upon
the shrines of Europe, who forthwith dramatizes his own
innocence, and is unaware of COLUMBUS, but weeps at the grave of
ADAM. He finds the old masters a clutter of paint, and refuses to
be moved by the cant of embryo Cookists. He turns a fresh,
untroubled face on Europe, and asks that it make its own
impression sincerely and first-hand.
That manhandling of the holy places and hoar traditions was
the key to MARK TWAIN, who faced life itself in the same naked
way. Background, and atmosphere and the accumulations of
convention were nonexistent for him, who asked them only to give
up their reality and what of vital spark they still possessed for
him. This trait of the unabashed accounted for some of his more
doubtful ventures, as when he entered the lists of the
The books which will safeguard his fame longer than a library
of solemn and academic tomes are "Tom Sawyer" and its greater
sequel "Huckleberry Finn," wherein the boy in literature is first
discovered and celebrated. All the Boytowns and Bad Boys since
owe a goodly debt to the clean sweep of those adventures, where
boys whitewash fences, run away from home, and exhibit their
naked souls in a leaping narrative, brimmed with undying
laughter, and poignant with such touches of pathos as the
unsuspected deafness of poor black Jim's little girl. The humor
of those early books persists through many languages, and is
little time-worn by forty years.
To see things with fresh eyes, and find nothing sacred simply
because other men had removed their shoes--it was in this spirit
that he invaded the medieval realm, and plucked the comic out of
the forest rides of knights and ladies and the renowned jousts.
He called it "A Yankee at the Court of King Arthur." He had
already written "The Prince and the Pauper" to show that
tenderness and reverence could be accorded.
In his "Joan of Arc" he dealt tenderly with the lovely lady in
proof that he knew how to kneel as well as strike.
He made a few swift sorties into literary criticism in the
same masculine, forthright way--notably in his bitter attack on
SHELLEY for the treatment of the poor drowned HARRIET, and in the
paper on COOPER, whom he pilloried for committing the 57
varieties of literary sin in plot construction and style.
He did not flinch from facing the popular good will, which was
so largely his, and attacked the national policy of imperialism
in his eloquent "To Them That Sit in Darkness," and the acrid
drive at General FUNSTON. FUNSTON thought of replying, and the
author in the pride of conscious power, advised him to beware or
he would hand him out some "man-talk."
He was free of prejudices, and wrote a fine, strong article on
the Jews, where the unfailing sympathy of it included some
The external facts are few after the early hard years which
grounded him in reality. The books sold like "The Pilgrim's
Progress." His lectures were always thronged.
In old age he met a sudden financial loss to himself--and to
those who had invested with him in a publishing house of his
founding--by a recurrence of energy on the lecture platform,
which cleared every cent of the indebtedness. He exactly repeated
the intrepid and honorable feat of WALTER SCOTT, which had
enriched literary history for a hundred years.
In his later years he was moved by the pathos of life--the
ceaseless striving game. His manner was affectionate and playful,
and the impression of him on the spirit was tender and pathetic.
He was simple and offhand, never forcing the note. His
conversation was made up of short, easy words, never aiming at
wit or cleverness. Sometimes, too, there was music on his lips,
as when, on his birthday celebration, he spoke of Pier 70, and
the laughter and songs of the young men in the streets at
midnight, no more to be heard.
With the fearless poise of the head of white hair, he would be
watched by a theater audience more closely than the star actor on
the stage. Ten thousand men rose to their feet when he entered
the open-air auditorium at the Yale bicentennial.