TRIBUTE TO MARK TWAIN
By BRANDER MATTHEWS
It would be hard to find in any language better specimens of pure narrative, better examples of the power of telling a story and of calling up action so that the reader cannot help but see it, than Mark Twain's account of the Shepherdson-Grangerford feud, and his description of the shooting of Boggs by Sherburn and of the foiled attempt to lynch Sherburn afterward.
These scenes, fine as they are, vivid, powerful, and most artistic in their restraint, can be matched in the two other books. In "Tom Sawyer" they can be paralleled by the chapter in which the boy and the girl are lost in the cave, and Tom, seeing a gleam of light in the distance, discovers that it is a candle carried by the Indian Joe, the one enemy he has in the world. In "Pudd'nhead Wilson" the great passages of "Huckleberry Finn" are rivaled by that most pathetic account of the weak son willing to sell his own mother as a slave "down the river." I have no hesitation in expressing here my own conviction that the man who has given us four scenes like these is to be compared with the masters of literature.
Mark Twain's Style
Consider the tale of the bluejay in "A Tramp Abroad," wherein the humor is sustained by unstated pathos; what could be better told than this, with every word the right word and in the right place? And take Huck Finn's description of the storm when he was alone on the island, which is in dialect, which will not parse, which bristles with double negatives, but which none the less is one of the finest passages of descriptive prose in all American literature.
Mark Twain, American
In Mark Twain we have "the national spirit as seen with our own eyes," declared Mr. Howells; and, from more points of view than one, Mark Twain seems to me to be the very embodiment of Americanism. Combining a mastery of the commonplace with an imaginative faculty, he is a practical idealist. No respecter of persons, he has a tender regard for his fellow-men. Irreverent toward all outworn superstitions, he has ever revealed the deepest respect for all things truly worthy of reverence. He has a habit of standing upright, of thinking for himself, and of hitting hard at whatsoever seems to him hateful and mean; but at the core of him there is genuine gentleness and honest sympathy, brave humanity, and sweet kindliness.
Mark Twain has the very marrow of Americanism.
Mark Twain, Humanist
Like Moliere, Mark Twain takes his stand on commonsense and thinks scorn of affectation of every sort. He understands sinners and strugglers and weaklings, and he is not harsh with them, reserving his scorching hatred for hypocrites and pretenders and frauds.
Mark Twain, Humorist
After all, it is as a humorist pure and simple that Mark Twain is best known and best beloved. He is a funmaker beyond all question, and he has made millions laugh as no other man of our century has done. The laughter he has aroused is wholesome and self-respecting; it clears the atmosphere.
He followed "Life on the Mississippi" with the story in which that life has been crystallized forever, "Huckleberry Finn," the Odyssey of the Mississippi, the finest of his books, the deepest in its insight, and the widest in its appeal.
In no book in our language, to my mind, has the boy, simply as a boy, been better realized than in "Tom Sawyer."
In some respects "Pudd'nhead Wilson" is the most dramatic of Mark Twain's longer stories, and also the most ingenious; like "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn," it has the full flavor of the Mississippi River, on which its author spent his own boyhood, and from contact with the soil of which he always rises reinvigorated.
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