But the last is hardly fair. It is journalism, but it is literary journalism, and there are unquestionably areas that are purely literary, and not journalistic at all. There would always be those in any book of travel he might write. The story of the river revisited is an interesting theme; and if the revisiting had been done, let us say eight or ten years earlier, before he had become a theoretical pessimist, and before the river itself had become a background for pessimism, the tale might have had more of the literary glamour and illusion, even if less that is otherwise valuable.
‘Life on the Mississippi’ has been always popular in Germany. The Emperor William of Germany once assured Mark Twain that it was his favorite American book, and on the same evening the portier of the author’s lodging in Berlin echoed the Emperor’s opinion.
Paul Lindau, a distinguished German author and critic, in an interview at the time the Mississippi book appeared, spoke of the general delight of his countrymen in its author. When he was asked, “But have not the Germans been offended by Mark Twain’s strictures on their customs and language in his ‘Tramp Abroad’” he replied, “We know what we are and how we look, and the fanciful picture presented to our eyes gives us only food for laughter, not cause for resentment. The jokes he made on our long words, our inverted sentences, and the position of the verb have really led to a reform in style which will end in making our language as compact and crisp as the French or English. I regard Mark Twain as the foremost humorist of the age.”
Howells, traveling through Europe, found Lindau’s final sentiment echoed elsewhere, and he found something more: in Europe Mark Twain was already highly regarded as a serious writer. Thomas Hardy said to Howells one night at dinner:
“Why don’t people understand that Mark Twain is not merely a great humorist? He is a very remarkable fellow in a very different way.”
The Rev. Dr. Parker, returning from England just then, declared that, wherever he went among literary people, the talk was about Mark Twain; also that on two occasions, when he had ventured diffidently to say that he knew that author personally, he was at once so evidently regarded as lying for effect that he felt guilty, and looked it, and did not venture to say it any more; thus, in a manner, practising untruth to save his reputation for veracity.
That the Mississippi book throughout did much to solidify this foreign opinion of Mark Twain’s literary importance cannot be doubted, and it is one of his books that will live longest in the memory of men.
A GUEST OF ROYALTY
For purposes of copyright another trip to Canada was necessary, and when the newspapers announced (May, 1883) that Mark Twain was about to cross the border there came one morning the following telegram: