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.

It was the same old Cousin Jim.  Later, when he had royally accepted some tickets for the reading and bowed his exit, Cable put his head in at the door.

“That was Colonel Sellers,” he said.



In the December Century (1884) appeared a chapter from ’The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’, “The Grangerford-Shepherdson Feud,” a piece of writing which Edmund Clarence Stederian, Brander Matthews, and others promptly ranked as among Mark Twain’s very best; when this was followed, in the January number, by “King Sollermun,” a chapter which in its way delighted quite as many readers, the success of the new book was accounted certain. —­[Stedman, writing to Clemens of this instalment, said:  “To my mind it is not only the most finished and condensed thing you have done but as dramatic and powerful an episode as I know in modern literature.”]

‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ was officially published in England and America in December, 1884, but the book was not in the canvassers’ hands for delivery until February.  By this time the orders were approximately for forty thousand copies, a number which had increased to fifty thousand a few weeks later.  Webster’s first publication venture was in the nature of a triumph.  Clemens wrote to him March 16th: 

“Your news is splendid.  Huck certainly is a success.”

He felt that he had demonstrated his capacity as a general director and Webster had proved his efficiency as an executive.  He had no further need of an outside publisher.

The story of Huck Finn will probably stand as the best of Mark Twain’s purely fictional writings.  A sequel to Tom Sawyer, it is greater than its predecessor; greater artistically, though perhaps with less immediate interest for the juvenile reader.  In fact, the books are so different that they are not to be compared—­wherein lies the success of the later one.  Sequels are dangerous things when the story is continuous, but in Huckleberry Finn the story is a new one, wholly different in environment, atmosphere, purpose, character, everything.  The tale of Huck and Nigger Jim drifting down the mighty river on a raft, cross-secting the various primitive aspects of human existence, constitutes one of the most impressive examples of picaresque fiction in any language.  It has been ranked greater than Gil Blas, greater even than Don Quixote; certainly it is more convincing, more human, than either of these tales.  Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote, “It is a book I have read four times, and am quite ready to begin again to-morrow.”

It is by no means a flawless book, though its defects are trivial enough.  The illusion of Huck as narrator fails the least bit here and there; the “four dialects” are not always maintained; the occasional touch of broad burlesque detracts from the tale’s reality.  We are inclined to resent this.  We never wish to feel that Huck is anything but a real character.  We want him always the Huck who was willing to go to hell if necessary, rather than sacrifice Nigger Jim; the Huck who watched the river through long nights, and, without caring to explain why, felt his soul go out to the sunrise.

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