[This article has been edited to include only the portion pertaining to Mark Twain.]
THE HERO AS MAN OF LETTERS.
I. MARK TWAIN.
No American returning from a sojourn abroad has ever received a heartier welcome than that which awaits "Mark Twain." As an author he has long lived down the invidious reputation of a mere maker of jokes, which never should have attached to him, since, even in his earlier, though perhaps not in his earliest, works there were, to the observant, the signs of serious powers. Since then he has had the right to echo Horace's question, "What forbids to speak the truth in laughter?" But since " Tom Sawyer " and "Huckleberry Finn " and "Joan of Arc" nobody whose opinion is worth taking has ever presumed to treat their author as "a mere droll." Upon both sides of the Atlantic his claim is established as one of the first of living writers of the English language.
But it is not merely, perhaps it is not mainly, as an author that his country men have now most reason to be proud of him. It is as an American who has shown that the American standard of honor goes far beyond the standard set by the law. Many acts of commercial honor have been done by Americans which showed as high and scrupulous a sense of what was due from man to man as the assumption by Mr. Clemens of debts for which he was not legally liable. But the conspicuousness of the position of a popular author makes his example in such a matter more useful for edification to his own countrymen, and far more valuable to them as a vindication of the National character abroad. No foreigner will be apt to repeat without shame the old sneers at " Yankee sharp practice" who remembers this signal exhibition of " that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honor, which feels a stain like a wound."
This is not the first example that has been given of this chivalric sensibility. George William Curtis hampered himself through his early manhood by carrying the burden of debts contracted in his youth, which not the law, but his own self-respect, compelled him to assume. The very famous case of Sir Walter Scott is not quite parallel. Scott did, indeed, as his creditors acknowledged, make "unparalleled exertions " to pay his debts, and did pay $200,000 of them in two years. But they w ere legally as well as morally his debts, and they had been incurred in large part through his own extravagance. It would be an ungracious task to pick flaws in a fine piece of behavior, as Scott's undoubtedly was, and we are not attempting it. But the ideal of behavior which Mr. Clemens has exemplified is so exemplary precisely because it has shown that, as he himself has said it, honor is a harder taskmaster than the law.
In spite of his " unparalleled exertions" Scott died in debt, and his estate was not free for fourteen years afterward, while to Mr. Clemens has been granted the boon of seeing the success of his exertions. Like Longfellow's Village Blacksmith,
He looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.
It is to be expected that the pride and admiration of his fellow-craftsmen will arrange some suitable public expression for itself. Why should not the Authors Club take up this matter? No welcome its members can give him will be too warm to express the pride and admiration that are shared by all his countrymen.
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