Mark Twain, a Biography — Volume II, Part 1: 1886-1900 eBook

Albert Bigelow Paine
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 312 pages of information about Mark Twain, a Biography — Volume II, Part 1.
in him.  But it would be limiting him unjustly to describe him as a satirist, and it is hardly practicable to establish him in people’s minds as a moralist; he has made them laugh too long; they will not believe him serious; they think some joke is always intended.  This is the penalty, as Dr. Holmes has pointed out, of making one’s first success as a humorist.  There was a paper of Mark Twain’s printed in the Atlantic Monthly some years ago and called, “The Facts Concerning the Late Carnival of Crime in Connecticut,” which ought to have won popular recognition of the ethical intelligence underlying his humor.  It was, of course, funny; but under the fun it was an impassioned study of the human conscience.  Hawthorne or Bunyan might have been proud to imagine that powerful allegory, which had a grotesque force far beyond either of them....  Yet it quite failed of the response I had hoped for it, and I shall not insist here upon Mark Twain as a moralist; though I warn the reader that if he leaves out of the account an indignant sense of right and wrong, a scorn of all affectations and pretense, an ardent hate of meanness and injustice, he will come infinitely short of knowing Mark Twain.

Howells realized the unwisdom and weakness of dogmatic insistence, and the strength of understatement.  To him Mark Twain was already the moralist, the philosopher, and the statesman; he was willing that the reader should take his time to realize these things.  The article, with his subject’s portrait as a frontispiece, appeared in the Century for September, 1882.  If it carried no new message to many of its readers, it at least set the stamp of official approval upon what they had already established in their hearts.



Osgood was doing no great things with The Prince and the Pauper, but Clemens gave him another book presently, a collection of sketches—­The Stolen White Elephant.  It was not an especially important volume, though some of the features, such as “Mrs. McWilliams and the Lightning” and the “Carnival of Crime,” are among the best of their sort, while the “Elephant” story is an amazingly good take-off on what might be called the spectacular detective.  The interview between Inspector Blunt and the owner of the elephant is typical.  The inspector asks: 

    “Now what does this elephant eat, and how much?”

    “Well, as to what he eats—­he will eat anything.  He will eat a man,
    he will eat a Bible; he will eat anything between a man and a

“Good-very good, indeed, but too general.  Details are necessary; details are the only valuable thing in our trade.  Very well, as to men.  At one meal—­or, if you prefer, during one day—­how many men will he eat if fresh?”

    “He would not care whether they were fresh or not; at a single meal
    he would eat five ordinary men.”

Project Gutenberg
Mark Twain, a Biography — Volume II, Part 1: 1886-1900 from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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