He is apt to burlesque the lighter colloquiality, and it is only in the more serious and most tragical junctures that his people utter themselves with veracious simplicity and dignity. That great, burly fancy of his is always tempting him to the exaggeration which is the condition of so much of his personal humor, but which when it invades the drama spoils the illusion. The illusion renews itself in the great moments, but I wish it could be kept intact in the small, and I blame him that he does not rule his fancy better.
All of which applies precisely to the writing of the Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Intended as a fierce heart-cry against human injustice —man’s inhumanity to man—as such it will live and find readers; but, more than any other of Mark Twain’s pretentious works, it needs editing —trimming by a fond but relentless hard.
THE “YANKEE” IN ENGLAND
The London publishers of the Yankee were keenly anxious to revise the text for their English readers. Clemens wrote that he had already revised the Yankee twice, that Stedman had critically read it, and that Mrs. Clemens had made him strike out many passages and soften others. He added that he had read chapters of it in public several times where Englishmen were present and had profited by their suggestions. Then he said:
Now, mind you, I have taken all this pains because I wanted to say a Yankee mechanic’s say against monarchy and its several natural props, and yet make a book which you would be willing to print exactly as it comes to you, without altering a word.
We are spoken of (by Englishmen) as a thin-skinned people. It is you who are thin-skinned. An Englishman may write with the most brutal frankness about any man or institution among us and we republish him without dreaming of altering a line or a word. But England cannot stand that kind of a book written about herself. It is England that is thin-skinned. It causeth me to smile when I read the modifications of my language which have been made in my English editions to fit them for the sensitive English palate.
Now, as I say, I have taken laborious pains to so trim this book of offense that you’ll not lack the nerve to print it just as it stands. I am going to get the proofs to you just as early as I can. I want you to read it carefully. If you can publish it without altering a single word, go ahead. Otherwise, please hand it to J. R. Osgood in time for him to have it published at my expense.
This is important, for the reason that the book was not written for America; it was written for England. So many Englishmen have done their sincerest best to teach us something for our betterment that it seems to me high time that some of us should substantially recognize the good intent by trying to pry up the English nation to a little