Mark Twain is an apostle of the unconventional, and he tells uncommon stories in uncommon ways. Being free from reverence for anything merely because it is customary, and being blessed with a fancy which knows no bounds, his readers are sure of meeting improbable situations, treated with a gravity beyond their deserts. It is one of the unexplained facts in the history of American literature that he has had no imitators. Possibly it is because his audacious extravagance has become so marked a characteristic that mimicry would be obvious at sight. Of late years his writings have shown a moral or social aim which, while it is sometimes overwrought and made to bear undue burden, is always of healthy tone.
In Pudd'nhead Wilson if we reflect upon the career--but lightly sketched--of the rightful heir, it seems to teach the greater force of education and habit than blood or heredity; certainly his pure white blood never taught him to feel his superiority over his surroundings. But the more minutely detailed behavior of his substitute appears to lead to the belief that antecedents and the inherited moral weakness of the slave were too much for training and environment. Perhaps the author would have smiled in his cynical way had he supposed that any attempt would be made at deductions of this nature, when his object, primarily at least, was to entertain. In this object, at least, he never fails, and while the story differs materially from the manner of his early works, it is as full as ever of his quips and shrewd jests on the weaknesses of human nature.
One of the most characteristically funny features is the absurd explanation in which he takes his reader into his confidence by explaining how this story got away from him and left some of his people stranded, so that he had to retrace his steps and drown them at different times in the same well. This proving unsatisfactory because it was not a large well and would not hold any more, and recognizing the fact that he had got two stories entangled, he gravely "cures the defect" by pulling out the the farce and leaving the tragedy. What he calls the tragedy is much the best piece of work--in many respects he has written nothing better--but the appended story or farce is extravaganza run mad without sufficient base. It would have been more amusing if it had been shorter, but Pudd'nhead Wilson is good and the irony of the calendar is delicious. In these days of authors' block calendars, Pudd'nhead's sayings will well bear amplification for 1896. The illustrations are remarkably abundant, being in the form of marginal sketches on every page, and are in the main very satisfactory.