There is an old man in Russia who is a very great man of letters. Last week it was a matter for discussion whether the greatest living writer belonged to Russia or the United States. This week it will be conceded that that distinction belongs to Russia, for MARK TWAIN is dead.
He had the great advantage of living his life fully out. Not only his years, but his energies were prolonged, until we may feel that he pretty well worked out what was in him. There will be few to question that he was the greatest American writer of his generation. What may be discussed is whether we have ever had his equal. We have had no one at all like him. If we must compare, we consider HAWTHORNE and WHITMAN. There is nobody else to put in the scales with MARK TWAIN.
It may be a platitude to say that he was a great writer because he was born with the necessary gifts. No one not so born ever became great in letters. What is interesting is that powers so remarkable should have been packed into the frame of a child born in a obscure village in Missouri, and should have developed in a life entirely dissociated from what we are used to think of as literary influences. From the start he went to school to life; learned boys first, then men, and books at his convenience. When boys who have what are called "advantages" are studying Latin grammar, MARK was studying Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and the Mississippi River. He learned them, and in due time handed them down to be the heritage of American boys, and indeed of all American readers. That is his great achievement, that he grasped a great mindful of American life, rough, joyous, and picturesque, and put it where it must stay, vital and permanent, but convenient for examination. There is no sign yet of a time when it will cease to be examined by crowds of searchers rejoicing in what they have found.
He was irreverent as RABELAIS was irreverent. He never revered shams, and since the sham and the true are much mixed up in this world, he scared timid folk at times because of his handling of the sham part of things that had truth in them. Respectability never got a gyve on him, and yet in his essence he was a man profoundly respectable. He loved truth, justice, and honor, his integrity was nobly justified in the gravest difficulties, his affections were deep and constant, his sympathies were ready; to the end of his days he was master of himself, equal to his task, faithful to his obligations, and honorable and helpful man.