Mark Twain has never written anything brighter and wittier than A Yankee in King Arthur's Court, his latest book, which is now issued with all the advantages of illustrations that add zest to the great humorist's fun and satire. The book is as able and original as The Innocents Abroad or Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, while it bids fair to be fully as popular with the American public as either of these books. It is one long satire on modern England and Englishmen, under the clever guise of an attempt to picture the England of the sixth century and of Arthurian legend. It is said that Mark wrote the story about seven years ago, but about the time he had completed it he paid a visit to England and was received so handsomely that he didn't have the heart to print his bitter satire, that in places reminds one of Swift. Mark Twain has come up from the people. He is American to the backbone, and the assumption of natural superiority by titled English aristocrats and the terrible wrongs inflicted on the working people, evidently galled him beyond endurance. He has taken his revenge in this volume, and a thorough going over it is, for he has mercilessly flayed the follies, vices, cruelties and false pretensions of English royalty and aristocracy.
A mere statement of the plot of the story shows the ample field it gives for "most excellent fooling." Mark pretends to find a Connecticut Yankee in London who recalls his experiences in the age of King Arthur. The story is told with great realistic effect, and the extraordinary contrasts of modern slang and archaic speech, of nineteenth-century progress and sixth-century superstition, when developed by a master of the art of humor, are inexpressibly droll. The Yankee is captured by one of the Knights of the Round Table and brought to the court, where he is about to be executed as a curious monster, when he chances to remember that an eclipse occurs on that day. So he adopts the device which Rider Haggard has used with so much effect in his African romances, and threatens to destroy the sun unless he is released. The sun's disk begins to be obscured and before the eclipse is ended he has been made a great noble, Sir Boss, with ample revenue, and the office of chief adviser of the King. Then begin contests with jealous knights and especially bouts of witchcraft with Merlin, in which the famous magician is completely vanquished by modern science.
Mark's picture of the deficiencies of the Arthurian court in little conveniences is very droll. "No soap, no matches, no looking glass, except a metal one about as powerful as a pail of water, and not a chromo. I had been used to chromos for years and I saw now that without my suspecting it a passion for art had got worked into the fabric of my being and had become a part of me." And then the makeshifts for light -- "a bronze dish half full of boarding-house butter with a blazing rag floating in it was the thing that produced what is regarded as a light."
And here is the picture of the people of England at the time of King Arthur, which, curiously enough, is as applicable to the great body of Englishmen of to-day as to those of thirteen centuries ago:
These extracts give a fair idea of the sarcasm which the author heaps upon England. He is in dead earnest when he gets to tilting at the divine right of kings and aristocrats to make the people slave and sweat blood for them, but he unbends when he deals with chivalry. He has no more reverence for the beautiful legends which Tennyson has embalmed in his Idyles of the King than Bob Ingersoll has for St. Peter's or the best works of some of the old masters. Some of his caricature is very funny, as, for instance, this bit about the search for the Holy Grail:
In the last chapters the author puts no bridle on his extravagance, and the book ends in scenes of warfare that will make Haggard green with envy. The illustrations by Dan Beard are full of humor, and bring out the fun of the story. The book is finely printed and bound and lavishly illustrated. For sale by subscription only by A. L. Bancroft & Co., 132 Post Street, sole agents for the coast.