Hartford Daily Times [unsigned]
1876: December 20

The American Publishing company of this city have just issued Mark Twain's book, "Tom Sawyer." It is a beautiful book, both outside and in, as one might naturally expect to find it on seeing the imprint of this publishing house upon it--a house that has established a well-earned reputation in the book publishing lines. The illustrations in the book are of a merit beyond praise. They are of the eloquent kind that speak for themselves, as well as for the print they illustrate. Those who imagine this to be a tame story for little boys will discover their mistake on reading it. It is safe to predict that no one will read the first page without reading all the rest. There is a power of attraction about it that doesn't "let up," but grows stronger to the end. Though claiming to be a book for boys and girls it will not be monopolized by them. There's rich entertainment in it for both young and old. The author says most of the adventures recorded in it really occurred, and that one or two of them were his own. Perhaps his well-known modesty forbids his claiming any larger proportion. The story dates back some forty years ago, in one of the southwestern slave states. The hero, Tom Sawyer, is a unique individual, to state it mildly. The author says he belongs to the composite order of architecture. Perhaps that is as good a description of him as can be given in brief. He isn't one of the orthodox boys who love their Sunday schools, and love to read about the good little boys who die early and go to heaven. He evidently preferred the other place where they don't have any Sunday schools, and the boys don't have to keep quiet every seventh day in the week. He doesn't believe in early deaths, nor early piety. Tom is a reckless, daredevil fellow, ready to hazard life for an adventure any time; but under the rollicking air of the book there appears an occasional bit of philosophy in the peculiarly dry, sarcastic vein of the author, as this, for instance:

If he had been a great and wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do. And this would help him to understand why constructing artificial flowers or performing on a tread-mill is work, while rolling ten-pins or climbing Mont Blanc is only amusement. There are wealthy gentlemen in England who drive four-horse passenger-coaches twenty or thirty miles on a daily line, in the summer, because the privilege costs them considerable money; but if they were offered wages for the service, that would turn it into work and then they would resign.

Here's a hit at ministers:

After the hymn had been sung, the Rev. Mr. Sprague turned himself into a bulletin-board, and read off "notices" of meetings and societies and things till it seemed that the list would stretch out to the crack of doom -- a queer custom which is still kept up in America, even in cities, away here in this age of abundant newspapers. Often, the less there is to justify a traditional custom, the harder it is to get rid of it.
    And now the minister prayed. A good, generous prayer it was, and went into details: it pleaded for the church, and the little children of the church; for the other churches of the village; for the village itself; for the county; for the State; for the State officers; for the United States; for the churches of the United States; for Congress; for the President; for the officers of the Government; for poor sailors, tossed by stormy seas; for the oppressed millions groaning under the heel of European monarchies and Oriental despotisms; for such as have the light and the good tidings, and yet have not eyes to see nor ears to hear withal; for the heathen in the far islands of the sea; and closed with a supplication that the words he was about to speak might find grace and favor, and be as seed sown in fertile ground, yielding in time a grateful harvest of good. Amen.

The following, especially the account of the fly's toilet is particularly good:

The boy whose history this book relates did not enjoy the prayer, he only endured it -- if he even did that much. He was restive all through it; he kept tally of the details of the prayer, unconsciously -- for he was not listening, but he knew the ground of old, and the clergyman's regular route over it -- and when a little trifle of new matter was interlarded, his ear detected it and his whole nature resented it; he considered additions unfair, and scoundrelly. In the midst of the prayer a fly had lit on the back of the pew in front of him and tortured his spirit by calmly rubbing its hands together, embracing its head with its arms, and polishing it so vigorously that it seemed to almost part company with the body, and the slender thread of a neck was exposed to view; scraping its wings with its hind legs and smoothing them to its body as if they had been coat-tails; going through its whole toilet as tranquilly as if it knew it was perfectly safe. As indeed it was; for as sorely as Tom's hands itched to grab for it they did not dare -- he believed his soul would be instantly destroyed if he did such a thing while the prayer was going on. But with the closing sentence his hand began to curve and steal forward; and the instant the "Amen" was out the fly was a prisoner of war.

During the sermon that followed--a sermon that thinned the elect down to a company so small as to be "hardly worth the saving"--Tom had further interesting adventures which helped to give variety and keep awake "other people uninterested in the sermon" as well as himself.

The account, some chapters further along, of the village school graduating exercises, and the prize poems and compositions of the young ladies, is racy and rich, but not in the least exaggerated. Its beauty consists in its truth to life. The slim, melancholy girl, with a cast of countenance "that comes of pills and indigestion," who reads a poem as indigestible as her ordinary diet, is to be found in any average school of the present day, as can likewise be found her bilious companion who reads a composition which "wound up with a sermon so destructive of all hope to non-Presbyterians that it took the first prize."

Perhaps the most pointed paragraph in the book is the following in relation to a petition for pardon for a murderer:

The petition had been largely signed; many tearful and eloquent meetings had been held, and a committee of sappy women been appointed to go in deep mourning and wail around the governor, and implore him to be a merciful ass and trample his duty under foot. Injun Joe was believed to have killed five citizens of the village, but what of that? If he had been Satan himself there would have been plenty of weaklings ready to scribble their names to a pardon-petition, and drip a tear on it from their permanently impaired and leaky water-works.

If there is any defect in the book it is in the love scenes, where a boy of Tom Sawyer's size wanders off to be an outlaw. This part is a little overdrawn. But the whole story is so exquisitely told that the book will be widely sought. It is a capital gift for the holidays.

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