Hartford Daily Courant [Charles Dudley Warner]
1876: December 27

Mark Twain's Adventures of Tom Sawyer was published in England last June, and immediately many of the most easily detached and quotable portions of it found their way into the American press, and a wide circulation. The COURANT printed at the time two or three extracts from the book--Tom's adventure with the beetle in church, a most delightful study as well as a piece of profound philosophy, and the whitewashing of the fence, a bit of genuine fun with an artistic finish that would give the author a deserved reputation if he had never written anything else. The volume has just been brought out here in a very handsome style, copiously illustrated with drawings by Mr. J. W. Williams, who has happily entered into the spirit of the book, and produced excellent and on the whole the best set of character sketches we have ever seen from his pencil. The engravings do not all do justice to the original drawings, but they are more than fair, and as the text is beautifully printed on broad pages, the whole effect is very pleasing, and the volume is attractive at the first glance.

Tom Sawyer is in some respects an advance on anything that Mr. Clemens has before done--an advance we mean as a piece of literary work, careful in finish, and thought out more maturely. It has not the large, original force of the uncontrollable, spontaneous humor that in "The Innocents Abroad" carried an irrepressible burst of merriment round the globe, from San Francisco to India by way of Europe, but it has passages as exquisitely humorous as any in that book, and as a general thing it is more finely wrought. The passages we have spoken of above amply sustain this assertion; you can read them again and again with new delight, and indeed, we find it difficult not to read them every time we take up the book. They could not have been written without the spark of genius. We find in this book, too, the author's style, not more virile and sparklingly clear than formerly, but more carefully finished; and the author has toned down a little those excursions into the impossible, which are intensely amusing, but do not commend themselves to the judgment on a second reading. And in doing this he has lost nothing of his extraordinarily forceful use of the English language. There is no one writing today who has a finer intuitive sense of the right word in the right place.

The book is all about boys, and it is said to be written for boys. It is a masterly reproduction of boy's life and feeling, but, at the same time, it is written above boys: that is, the best part of it--the wit, the humor, the genius of it will fly miles above every boy's head in the country. The boys can appreciate the adventure in it as a mere narrative, but not that which makes the adventure valuable to older readers, who recall their own boyhood in it. The boy has not the least sense of humor; that is nothing funny to him in having his pocket in measure of useless trash; the tricks he plays upon his comrades are not amusing to him; he is a non-humorous, dead, in earnest creature, and it is this characteristic that makes him amusing to us (to himself in retrospect); but his serious life does not take in what we call humor. It is for this reason that we say that Tom Sawyer will be enjoyed most by mature readers, who will have a great delight in seeing how faithfully boy life is recalled.

Boy nature is the same everywhere, and the characteristics here given are of universal acceptance; but local coloring (as it is now called) is different, and the boys of this book are of Missouri and not of New England in a good many of their ways; and so they ought to be, being studies from life. We should not counsel New England boys to expect or to imitate some of the adventures in this book, but they doubtless are true enough to the society they sketch. The Missouri boy who has mighty stirrings in his soul and feels deeply the desperate injustice of his tender home, may want to go away and be a noble river pirate, just as the New England boy is sometimes moved to run away to sea. But neither of them we fancy ever finds or makes a pot of money by any sudden streak of luck.

We do not believe that Tom Sawyer or his comrades have the least idea how bright a boy he is, or what exceedingly funny things he says; he is as bright as Mark Twain himself. And probably no boy will appreciate the deep fun and satire of the following passage. In a midnight adventure of Tom and his companion, Huckleberry, the boys think they are lost and fall into a panic. Huckleberry whispers:--

    "Quick, Tom, quick! Who does he mean?"
    "Huck, he must mean us both -- we're right together."
    "Oh, Tom, I reckon we're goners. I reckon there ain't no mistake 'bout where I'll go to. I been so wicked."
    "Dad fetch it! This comes of playing hookey and doing everything a feller's told not to do. I might a been good, like Sid, if I'd a tried -- but no, I wouldn't, of course. But if ever I get off this time, I lay I'll just waller in Sunday-schools!" And Tom began to snuffle a little.
    "You bad!" and Huckleberry began to snuffle too. "Consound it, Tom Sawyer, you're just old pie, 'longside o' what I am. Oh, lordy, lordy, lordy, I wisht I only had half your chance."

The Sunday-school chapter, in which Tom's financial abilities come out strong, and he trades himself into the possession of the first prize, and in which he exhibits his Biblical knowledge, is saturated with the keenest humor; but a boy will hardly comprehend the fine observation and deep satirical humor of the scene. It is prize day and company is present. On the platform is the great Judge Thatcher, the county judge, and it is an important hour for Mr. Walters, the superintendent, and for the whole school. It was an impressive silence when Jeff Thatcher, the brother of the judge, observed by "ranks of staring eyes," went forward to be familiar with the great man and be envied by the school:--

Mr. Walters fell to "showing off," with all sorts of official bustlings and activities, giving orders, delivering judgments, discharging directions here, there, everywhere that he could find a target. The librarian "showed off" -- running hither and thither with his arms full of books and making a deal of the splutter and fuss that insect authority delights in. The young lady teachers "showed off" -- bending sweetly over pupils that were lately being boxed, lifting pretty warning fingers at bad little boys and patting good ones lovingly. The young gentlemen teachers "showed off" with small scoldings and other little displays of authority and fine attention to discipline -- and most of the teachers, of both sexes, found business up at the library, by the pulpit; and it was business that frequently had to be done over again two or three times (with much seeming vexation). The little girls "showed off" in various ways, and the little boys "showed off" with such diligence that the air was thick with paper wads and the murmur of scufflings. And above it all the great man sat and beamed a majestic judicial smile upon all the house, and warmed himself in the sun of his own grandeur -- for he was "showing off," too.

Tom is a genuine boy and his Aunt Polly is a genuine woman; both are capitally drawn; and the author has given to both some noble traits and elements of pathos which make them remain our friends long after the laughter they excite has ceased. The book is full of quotable things, scenes as amusing as anything Mr. Clemens has written, with now and then a stroke of good humored satire that is as well deserved as it is artistically administered--take the school examination and exhibition as a specimen; the remarks on the "compositions" of the young ladies might well be framed and hung up in every school room. But it is unnecessary to quote from a book which everybody will read.

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