Nor is there any situation quite as thrilling as that awful moment in the cave when the boy and girl are lost in the darkness, and when Tom suddenly sees a human hand bearing a light, and then finds that the hand is the hand of Indian Joe, his one mortal enemy. I have always thought that the vision of the hand in the cave in Tom Sawyer was one of the very finest things in the literature of adventure since Robinson Crusoe first saw a single footprint in the sand of the sea-shore.
Mark Twain’s invention was not always a reliable quantity, but with that eccentricity which goes with any attribute of genius, it was likely at any moment to rise supreme. If to the critical, hardened reader the tale seems a shade overdone here and there, a trifle extravagant in its delineations, let him go back to his first long-ago reading of it and see if he recalls anything but his pure delight in it then. As a boy’s story it has not been equaled.
Tom Sawyer has ranked in popularity with Roughing It.
Its sales go steadily on from year to year, and are likely to continue so long as boys and girls do not change, and men and women remember.
—[Col. Henry Watterson, when he finished Tom Sawyer, wrote: “I have just laid down Tom Sawyer, and cannot resist the pressure. It is immense! I read every word of it, didn’t skip a line, and nearly disgraced myself several times in the presence of a sleeping-car full of honorable and pious people. Once I had to get to one side and have a cry, and as for an internal compound of laughter and tears there was no end to it.... The ‘funeral’ of the boys, the cave business, and the hunt for the hidden treasure are as dramatic as anything I know of in fiction, while the pathos—particularly everything relating to Huck and Aunt Polly—makes a cross between Dickens’s skill and Thackeray’s nature, which, resembling neither, is thoroughly impressive and original.”]
MARK TWAIN AND BRET HARTE WRITE A PLAY
It was the fall and winter of ’76 that Bret Harte came to Hartford and collaborated with Mark Twain on the play “Ah Sin,” a comedy-drama, or melodrama, written for Charles T. Parsloe, the great impersonator of Chinese character. Harte had written a successful play which unfortunately he had sold outright for no great sum, and was eager for another venture. Harte had the dramatic sense and constructive invention. He also had humor, but he felt the need of the sort of humor that Mark Twain could furnish. Furthermore, he believed that a play backed by both their reputations must start with great advantages. Clemens also realized these things, and the arrangement was made. Speaking of their method of working, Clemens once said:
“Well, Bret came down to Hartford and we talked it over, and then Bret wrote it while I played billiards, but of course I had to go over it to get the dialect right. Bret never did know anything about dialect.” Which is hardly a fair statement of the case. They both worked on the play, and worked hard.