When the naturalist finds a new kind of animal, he writes him up in the interest of science. No matter if it is an unpleasant animal. This is a new kind of animal, and in the cause of society must be written up. He is the polecat of our species . . . . He is purely and simply a Guiteau with the courage left out . . . .
Steel portraits of him as
a sort of idiot, from infancy up—to a
dozen scattered through the book—all should resemble him.
But never mind the rest. When he had got thoroughly interested in his project Mrs. Clemens, who had allowed the cyclone to wear itself out a little with its own vehemence, suggested that perhaps it would be well to have some one make an examination of the files of the paper and see just what had been said of him. So he subscribed for the paper himself and set a man to work on the back numbers. We will let him tell the conclusion of the matter himself, in his report of it to Howells:
The result arrived from my New York man this morning. Oh, what a pitiable wreck of high hopes! The “almost daily” assaults for two months consist of (1) adverse criticism of P. & P. from an enraged idiot in the London Athenaeum, (2) paragraphs from some indignant Englishman in the Pall Mall Gazette, who pays me the vast compliment of gravely rebuking some imaginary ass who has set me up in the neighborhood of Rabelais, (3) a remark about the Montreal dinner, touched with an almost invisible satire, and, (4) a remark about refusal of Canadian copyright, not complimentary, but not necessarily malicious; and of course adverse criticism which is not malicious is a thing which none but fools irritate themselves about.
There, that is the prodigious bugaboo in its entirety! Can you conceive of a man’s getting himself into a sweat over so diminutive a provocation? I am sure I can’t. What the devil can those friends of mine have been thinking about to spread those three or four harmless things out into two months of daily sneers and affronts?
Boiled down, this vast outpouring of malice amounts to simply this: one jest (one can make nothing more serious than that out of it). One jest, and that is all; for foreign criticisms do not count, they being matters of news, and proper for publication in anybody’s newspaper . . . .
Well, my mountain has brought forth its mouse, and a sufficiently small mouse it is, God knows. And my three weeks’ hard work has got to go into the ignominious pigeonhole. Confound it, I could have earned ten thousand dollars with infinitely less trouble.
Howells refers to this episode, and concludes:
So the paper was acquitted and the editor’s life was spared. The wretch never, never knew how near he was to losing it, with incredible preliminaries of obloquy, and a subsequent devotion to lasting infamy.