Athenaeum [unsigned]
1890: February 15

A Yankee at the Court of King Arthur, by Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens), published by Messrs. Chatto & Windus, is a rather laborious piece of fun with a sort of purpose in it. One of the illustrations, early in the volume, represents a Yankee tickling with a straw the nose of a gigantic statue of a lion, and indicates the general nature of the serious purport of the 525 pages of that very American kind of American humour of which "Mark Twain" is the chief master. Laughing at British institutions, and showing that the good old times were uncommonly bad times for the people, and that not a few of the historical privileges which still exist do not suit the ideas of the great republic of the West, afford a good deal of harmless amusement and opportunities for very trite comment. It is a mistake to decide that ridicule cast upon the story of Arthur is an offence in any way other than in the matter of taste in jokes. Sir Thomas Malory and Lord Tennyson will survive. Masterpieces will stand any amount of parody. "The Burial of Sir John Moore" and Gray's "Elegy" are just as impressive and admirable as if they had not been parodied with all sorts of jocularity and ribaldry scores of times. One may easily read Mark Twain's book without any ill will; but it is a harder task to read it with sustained merriment. By writing so much the author has shown how mechanical his method really is, and, with all respect for the cleverness of the writers of Gaiety burlesques, one doubts if anybody could be amused by reading one of them if it ran to five hundred pages. That is, however, the sort of task which Mark Twain offers to his readers. One may be pardoned for confessing that the task has proved too severe. A trial of several chapters taken at random shows that the author is still as fresh as ever in his racy contrasts between things ancient and modern, and as quaint in his droll expressions. He can raise a laugh once, twice, or even twenty times, but not a thousand.

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