Certainly False, But Probably Funny
When Mr. Mark Twain with dauntless pocketbook withstood the extortionate cabman he climbed to a notable height of civic distinction, the loftiest his feet had ever trod. He had become a soldier in the war of liberation, and an enslaved community was grateful to him. He was invited to many public dinners and began to make speeches with great rapidity.
Flattered by the evident curiosity of the mob, Mr. Twain presently changed his tune from lively to severe, and astonished the town by repeated attempts at serious moral discourse -- or at least so they seemed. Probably they were nothing of the kind. Probably Mr. Twain's North American Review article on the shocking atrocity of our efforts to established a civil government in the Philippines is nothing of the kind. Our neighbor The Sun says, "Mark is on a spree; for the moment he is in a state of mortifying intoxication from an overdraught of seriousness, something to which his head has not been hardened." Mr. Howells, in a study of Twain in the same number of The North American Review, and therefore before he could have known what the subject of his kindly appreciations was about to do, says that "what we all should wish to do is to keep Mark Twain what he has always been, a comic force unique in the power of charming us out of our cares and troubles"; also that this comic force is "united with a potent ethic sense of duty, public and private," which shows that Mr. Twain's dissembling has fooled even his critic.
If Mr. McKinley, grave and care-burdened man that he is, should send to The North American Review a reminiscent article entitled "Side-Splitting Stories from the Ways and Means Committee Room," and Col. Harvey should print it; or if Mr. Cleveland, abating the native seriousness of his mind, should suddenly begin to write comic verse, the public might laugh, but it would be with counterfeited glee. So when Mark Twain, tumbling in among us from the clouds of exile and discarding the grin of the funny man for the sour visage of the austere moralist, forthwith starts in to lecture us about the things of state that have made all heads ache these two years, the result is neither fish nor flesh. It may be good red herring, but in such disguise that the old audience, which, as Mr. Howells says, thought itself liberal when it sometimes allowed this humorist to be a philosopher, will miss the familiar flavor.
Mr. Twain draws a grotesque picture of the Philippine transaction, true at no point and faithful in no detail, but he handles the brush with the air of an apostle teaching the Word and puts such a note of stern conviction into his castigations of those in authority that the reader off his guard, coming upon solemn preachments where he had expected provocations to inextinguishable laughter, would be in imminent danger of being deceived.
It is, in fact, very much as if Mr. Twain, catching up a yellow journal artist's delineation of a courtroom scene during a murder trial, should exhibit it to an audience, swearing -- on Bibles -- that it was a Papal Consistory. Those who were deceived would be woefully deceived, indeed, and those who were actively disseminating deceptions would laud his picture extravagantly and so speed the error further on its way. The only cure we can recommend for those who have been taken in by Mr. Twain's joke is to read with care the original authorities, the official sources, from which he would have it appear that he drew the information so amusingly perverted in his article. Then will the reader perceive that Mr. Twain's picture of our relations to the Filipino insurgents, of their part in the military operations before Manila, of their nature and disposition, and of the beginning of their war with us, is a travesty of the truth, a reckless travesty we should call it if the presumption of comic intent did not exclude harsh judgments. It is a pretty heavy way to be funny, for a man who reads a joke wants to have his laugh the same day. Nobody can see the point of Mr. Mark Twain's North American Review joke until with incredible labor he has read through two big volumes of Executive Documents. Then he begins to see that what has been called the swish of Mr. Twain's lash is only the tinkle of the bells on his cap.
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