30 April 1910

It is well within the literal truth to say that no American writer of our day has given so large a number of people so great an amount of innocent entertainment as Samuel Langhorne Clemens. This is obviously a matter quite apart from the question of the fineness of literary quality in his work. On that point critical opinions differ; there are those who consider that Mr. Clemens "Joan of Arc" may claim high place among seriously imaginative works of literature, and that in other writings he showed at times far more than the talent of the whimsical humorist. Certainly in those delightful boys, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, and in such tales as "The Prince and the Pauper," he did leave in his reader's memory-gallery distinct and individual character creations. It is really a tribute to his variety of interest that readers of many degrees of culture and taste are champions of half a dozen different specimens of his art as entitled to be called favorite and best: one, for instance, thinks the "Jumping Frog" inimitable; another deems it immensely overrated and prefers the keen irony of "A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court"; others select as deliciously humorous certain sketches of Mark Twain's experiences abroad or even bits of his longer books like "Roughing It" and "The Gilded Age"; while almost all enjoy "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn" because, as one critic has said, "the author has here surpassed in that he has vividly portrayed the American boy" and given his readers "an adequate impression of the large, homely, spontaneous life led by native Americans in the great valley of the Mississippi."

Mr. Clemens was half way through his seventy-fifth year when he died at "Stormfield," on Thursday of last week. His early life in Missouri, his rambling experiences in mining, steamboat piloting, and newspaper work, his first book-success with "Innocents Abroad," the long list of romances, stories, and sketches that followed, together with later eventful incidents, notable among which was the bestowal of his doctor's degree at Oxford three years ago--all this is familiar to most Americans, and much of the story has been told discursively and oddly in Mark Twain's own purposely inconsecutive autobiographical papers. One of many tributes to his memory from fellow writers may be quoted-that of James Whitcomb Riley: "The world has lost not only a genius, but a man of striking character, of influence, and of boundless resources. He knew the human heart, and he was sincere. He knew children, and this knowledge made him tender."

In personal friendships and family life Mr. Clemens was peculiarly fortunate. He was in certain ways also a national figure. Repeatedly his force and wit were used to strengthen public causes and to encourage right doing and right thinking. No advocacy of public nature, however, could have more lasting power than the private example he gave of scrupulous honor. He voluntarily bore for years the burden of financial liability incurred in his name through the publishing business in which he had been unwise enough to become a partner. Refusing to accept the legal benefits of bankruptcy, he set to work, like Walter Scott, to pay his debtors by his pen; and that he not only succeeded but re-established his own fortunes, was a general cause for felicitation and rejoicing.

Mark Twain's humor had not only the element of exaggeration which is said to be more especially characteristic of American writers of this class; it had also drollery and unexpected turns, as unlike Artemus Ward on the one had as they were distant from Thackeray on the other. In common with most other professed humorists, his flint did not always strike fire; there were undoubtedly commonplace and even tedious passages; he did not often deal successfully with plot, and sometime he mistook the melodramatic for the dramatic. But his best was so very good that his popularity has become fixed and general, and there is no doubt that he will continue to be read both here and abroad for many years to come.

That Mark Twain more often then not had serious purpose in his writing could easily be shown; sometimes that purpose was to hold up to contempt despicable or sordid actions or traits of character; sometimes that purpose wit was to teach affirmatively and aggressively principles of fairness, truth, kindness, and generosity. Mark Twain's influence never tended toward meanness, snobbery, ostentation. More also than most writers with a popular following, he established in his books and sketches a feeling of personal friendliness, almost intimacy, with men of all sorts; his works are on the shelf of professor and mechanic. The fact that thousands with whom "Mark Twin" is a household word, as the name not only of a writer but of an individual, might have to think twice before recalling the name Samuel L. Clemens is perhaps unique in the history of pseudonyms, and has a significance of its own.

Homepage Next Page