Springfield [Massachusetts] Republican [unsigned; Franklin B. Sanborn]
1885: April 27


It would be difficult to make Englishmen believe that the adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer are as important to the loose-girt muse of fiction as the high-bred sentiments of Lord Glenaveril and his German parson-Pylades,--yet such is the fact; and even as a work of dramatic art, the new book of Mark Twain has more merit than Lord Lytton's. I cannot subscribe to the extreme censure passed upon this volume, which is no coarser than Mark Twain's books usually are, while it has a vein of deep morality beneath its exterior of falsehood and vice, that will redeem it in the eyes of mature persons. It is not adapted to Sunday-school libraries, and should perhaps be left unread by growing boys; but the mature in mind may read it, without distinction of age or sex, and without material harm. It is in effect an argument against negro-slavery, lynching, whisky-drinking, family feuds, promiscuous shooting, and nearly all the vices of Missouri in the olden time, when Benton represented that state in the Senate; and before the people of western Missouri undertook to colonize Kansas in the interest of slavery, and then to force that institution upon the freemen who went there from the North. As a picture of Missouri life and manners it is simply invaluable, and goes farther to explain the political history of the United States from 1854 to 1860 than any other work I have seen,--and I have been reading in that direction of late. Huck Finn's father is the drunken poor white of Missouri, upon whom Atchison and his betters relied to fight slavery into Kansas; and the Grangerfords, Sherherdsons and Col. Sherburn are the gentlemen of courage and wealth who sometimes led on and sometimes thwarted the diabolism of the poor whites. I hardly know where one could find a more lively sketch of the fire-eating, affectionate, proud and courteous southern homicide than that given by poor Huck Finn in his account of the Grangerford family:


Col. Grangerford was a gentleman, you see. He was a gentleman all over; and so was his family. He was well born, as the saying is, and that�s worth as much in a man as it is in a horse, so the Widow Douglas said, and nobody ever denied that she was of the first aristocracy in our town; and pap he always said it, too, though he warn�t no more quality than a mudcat himself. Col. Grangerford was very tall and very slim, and had a darkish-paly complexion, not a sign of red in it anywheres; he was clean shaved every morning all over his thin face, and he had the thinnest kind of lips, and the thinnest kind of nostrils, and a high nose, and heavy eyebrows, and the blackest kind of eyes, sunk so deep back that they seemed like they was looking out of caverns at you, as you may say. His forehead was high, and his hair was black and straight and hung to his shoulders. His hands was long and thin, and every day of his life he put on a clean shirt and a full suit from head to foot made out of linen so white it hurt your eyes to look at it; and on Sundays he wore a blue tail-coat with brass buttons on it. He carried a mahogany cane with a silver head to it. There warn�t no frivolishness about him, not a bit, and he warn�t ever loud. He was as kind as he could be�you could feel that, you know, and so you had confidence. Sometimes he smiled, and it was good to see; but when he straightened himself up like a liberty-pole, and the lightning begun to flicker out from under his eyebrows, you wanted to climb a tree first, and find out what the matter was afterwards. He didn�t ever have to tell anybody to mind their manners�everybody was always good-mannered where he was. Everybody loved to have him around, too; he was sunshine most always�I mean he made it seem like good weather. When he turned into a cloudbank it was awful dark for half a minute, and that was enough; there wouldn�t nothing go wrong again for a week.

When him and the old lady come down in the morning all the family got up out of their chairs and give them good-day, and didn�t set down again till they had set down. Then Tom and Bob went to the sideboard where the decanter was, and mixed a glass of bitters and handed it to him, and he held it in his hand and waited till Tom�s and Bob�s was mixed, and then they bowed and said, �Our duty to you, sir, and madam;� and they bowed the least bit in the world and said thank you, and so they drank, all three, and Bob and Tom poured a spoonful of water on the sugar and the mite of whisky or apple brandy in the bottom of their tumblers, and give it to me and Buck, and we drank to the old people too.

Bob was the oldest and Tom next�tall, beautiful men with very broad shoulders and brown faces, and long black hair and black eyes. They dressed in white linen from head to foot, like the old gentleman, and wore broad Panama hats.

Then there was Miss Charlotte; she was twenty-five, and tall and proud and grand, but as good as she could be when she warn�t stirred up; but when she was she had a look that would make you wilt in your tracks, like her father. She was beautiful.

So was her sister, Miss Sophia, but it was a different kind. She was gentle and sweet like a dove, and she was only twenty.

Each person had their own nigger to wait on them�Buck too. My nigger had a monstrous easy time, because I warn�t used to having anybody do anything for me, but Buck�s was on the jump most of the time.

This was all there was of the family now, but there used to be more�three sons; they got killed; and Emmeline that died.

The old gentleman owned a lot of farms and over a hundred niggers. Sometimes a stack of people would come there, horseback, from ten or fifteen mile around, and stay five or six days, and have such junketings round about and on the river, and dances and picnics in the woods daytimes, and balls at the house nights. These people was mostly kinfolks of the family. The men brought their guns with them. It was a handsome lot of quality, I tell you.


This is a curious reproduction of the manners that prevailed in the time of Benton and Clay, and farther back, in the days of Andrew Jackson, who used to drink his morning draught as described, and then hand the tumbler to one of his suite, who would pour in water and drink the heel-tap, as Huck Finn and Buck Grangerford do in this sketch. In other parts of the book there is exaggeration, and too much that is merely grotesque and coarse,--but in its best portions it is true to the life and very effective. There are needless complications in the plot, and there is more joking than is best for the story,--but on the whole the plot is not a bad one, and the joking is unavoidable and generally harmless, considering what the author's conception of his characters seems to be. Like all professed humorists, he carries the joke too far, and "runs it into the ground," but in its best estate his fun is irresistible, though it is very little helped by the so-called illustrations of his book. These throw some light on the housing, dress and external circumstances of the personages, but seldom reproduce, as the author does, their internal struggles and entanglements. There is hardly anything so true to human nature in the whole realm of casuistry as the young hero's meditations with himself over his duty regarding the runaway slave, Jim, when it first dawns upon the boy that he is an accomplice in the escape from slavery.


I begun to get it through my head that he was most free�and who was to blame for it? Why, me. I couldn�t get that out of my conscience, no how nor no way. It got to troubling me so I couldn�t rest; I couldn�t stay still in one place. It hadn�t ever come home to me before, what this thing was that I was doing. But now it did; and it stayed with me, and scorched me more and more. I tried to make out to myself that I warn�t to blame, because I didn�t run Jim off from his rightful owner; but it warn�t no use, conscience up and says, every time, �But you knowed he was running for his freedom, and you could a paddled ashore and told somebody.� That was so�I couldn�t get around that noway. That was where it pinched. Conscience says to me, "What had poor Miss Watson done to you that you could see her nigger go off right under your eyes and never say one single word? What did that poor old woman do to you that you could treat her so mean? Why, she tried to learn you your book, she tried to learn you your manners, she tried to be good to you every way she knowed how. That�s what she done."

. . . Here was this nigger, which I had as good as helped to run away, coming right out flat-footed and saying he would steal his children�children that belonged to a man I didn�t even know; a man that hadn�t ever done me no harm.

. . . My conscience got to stirring me up hotter than ever, until at last I says to it, �Let up on me�it ain�t too late yet�I�ll paddle ashore at the first light and tell.� I felt easy and happy and light as a feather right off. All my troubles was gone.


So he deceives the fugitive and sets out for the shore in the canoe, while his grateful companion says: "Jim won't ever forgit you, Huck; you's de bes' fren' Jim's ever had; en you's de only fren' ole Jim's got now." Huck then goes on: "I was paddling off, all in a sweat to tell on him; but when he says this, it seems to kind of take the tuck all out of me. I went along slow then, and I wasn't right down certain whether I was glad I started or whether I warn't. When I was 50 yards off Jim says: 'Dah you goes, de ole true Huck; de only white genlman dat ever kep' his promise to ole Jim.' Well, I just felt sick. But I says, I got to to it--I can't get out of it." However, he deceives two white men who are looking for runaways, gets $40 in gold out of them in compassion for his assumed father's sickness with the small-pox, and goes back to Jim without betraying him, "feeling bad and low, because I knowed very well I had done wrong." "Then I thought a minute, and says to myself, hold on--s'pose you'd a done right and give Jim up; would you felt better than what you do now? No, says I, I'd feel bad--I'd feel just the same way I do now. Well, then, says I, what's the use you learning to do right, when it's troublesome to do right, and ain't no trouble to do wrong, and the wages is just the same? I was stuck. I couldn't answer that. So I reckoned I wouldn't bother no more about it, but after this always do whichever come handiest at the time."

Good people must make no mistake about the teachings of this book; for although the author declares that "persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished," and though the Concord library committee have banished the book itself as immoral, I can see nothing worse in it than in the story of Samson, which contains a great deal of deliberate lying, or the story of Noah, which has a good deal about drinking, rafting, and high water. It is indeed a legend of prehistoric times, and for aught I know, may be a sun-myth or a freshet-myth, or the story of a geological period. As a work of art it is an improvement on Tom Sawyer and has the air of reality which The Prince and the Pauper lacks. Lord Lytton should read it before finishing Glenaveril.

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