My dear Mr. Wyndham, -- It has occurred to a good many prophets since Lord Lytton wrote The Coming Race, --
To dip into the future, far as human eye could see,
but it was reserved, I think, for Mark Twain to put on Hans Andersen's Goloshes of Happiness and go back to the past, carrying with him all the wonders of the present. A Yankee at the Court of King Arthur is a bizarre book, full of all kinds of laughable and delightful incongruities -- the most striking of its incongruities, however, being unconscious, grim, and disenchanting. For Mark Twain, as he goes on, gets into a fury so ferocious (and natural) with the infernal oppression of the people by the Nobles, the King, and the Church that he passes in a sentence from laughing into raving at the "good old times"; and, like Macbeth at sight of Banquo's ghost, he "displaces the mirth" of the feast he had prepared for us. His fooling is admirable and his preaching is admirable, but they are mutually destructive. In every page he preaches pretty much what Richard Rumbold preached two centuries since -- "I never could believe that Providence had sent a few men into the world ready booted and spurred to ride, and millions ready saddled and bridled to be ridden" -- but Rumbold preached it from the most commanding of pulpits -- the scaffold -- whereas Mark Twain preaches it from the sawdust of the circus and in the intervals between a couple of jests or a couple of summersaults. But it is thoroughly sound doctrine, and is needed still so sorely in England and Ireland that it is ungracious to grumble at the mode of its delivery. It will reach a larger audience, and, perhaps, strike many of them more by its grotesque presentation than if the preacher wore a less bizarre garb than motley.
Ridentem dicere verum
Still, such frightful episodes as that of the woman who was burned to make a fire to warm a slave gang, or that of the hanging of the young mother -- wife of the "pressed" man-o'-war's man -- with her baby at her breast (an incident, by the way, Mr. Mark Twain, not of the sixth century, but of the beginning of the nineteenth), freeze the laughter on our lips.