A SAD, SAD BUSINESS.
Latterly I have received several letters, and see a number of newspaper paragraphs, all upon a certain subject, and all of about the same tenor. I here give honest specimens. One is from a New York paper, one is from a letter from an old friend, and one is from a letter from a New York publisher who is a stranger to me. I humbly endeavor to make these bits toothsome with the remark that the article they are praising (which appeared in the December Galaxy, and pretended to be a criticism from the London "Saturday Review" on my "Innocents Abroad") was written by myself -- every line of it:
The "Herald" says the richest thing out is the "serious critique" in the London "Saturday Review", on Mark Twain's "Innocents Abroad." We thought before we read it that it must be "serious," as everybody said so, and were even ready to shed a few tears; but since perusing it, we are bound to confess that next to Mark's "Jumping Frog" it's the finest bit of humor and sarcasm that we've come across in many a day.
[I do not get a compliment like that every day.]
I used to think that your writings were pretty good but after reading the criticism in THE GALAXY from the "London Review," have discovered what an ass I must have been. If suggestions are in order, mine is, that you put that article in your next edition of the "Innocents," as an extra chapter, if you are not afraid to put your own humor in competition with it. It is as rich a thing as I ever read."
[Which is strong commendation from a book publisher.]
The London Reviewer, my friend, is not the stupid "serious" creature he pretends to be, I think; but, on the contrary, has a keen appreciation and enjoyment of your book. As I read his article in THE GALAXY, I could imagine him giving vent to many a hearty laugh. But he is writing for Catholics and Established Church people, and high-toned, antiquated, conservative gentility, whom it is a delight to him to help you shock, while he pretends to shake his head with owlish density. He is a magnificent humorist himself.
[Now that is graceful and handsome. I take off my hat to my life-long friend and comrade, and with my feet together and my fingers spread over my heart, I say, in the language of Alabama, "You do me proud."]
I stand guilty of the authorship of the article, but I did not mean any harm. I saw by an item in the Boston Advertiser that a solemn, serious critique on the English edition of my book had appeared in the London "Saturday Review," and the idea of such a literary breakfast by a stolid, ponderous British ogre of the quill was too much for a naturally weak virtue, and I went home and burlesqued it -- revelled in it, I may say. I never saw a copy of the real "Saturday Review" criticism until after my burlesque was written and mailed to the printer. But when I did get hold of a copy, I found it to be vulgar, awkwardly written, ill-natured, and entirely serious and in earnest. The gentleman who wrote the newspaper paragraph above quoted had not been misled as to its character.
If any man doubts my word now, I will kill him. No, I will not kill him; I will win his money. I will bet him twenty to one, and let any New York publisher hold the stakes, that the statements I have above made as to the authorship of the article in question are entirely true. Perhaps I may get wealthy at this, for I am willing to take all the bets that offer; and if a man wants larger odds, I will give him all he requires. But he ought to find out whether I am betting on what is termed "a sure thing" or not before he ventures his money, and he can do that by going to a public library and examining the London "Saturday Revue" of October 8th, which contains the real critique.
Bless me, some people thought that I was the "sold" person!
P. S. -- I cannot resist the temptation to toss in this most savory thing of all -- this easy, graceful, philosophical disquisition, with its happy, chirping confidence. It is from the Cincinnati Enquirer:
Nothing is more uncertain than the value of a fine cigar. Nine smokers out of ten would prefer an ordinary domestic article, three for a quarter, to a fifty-cent Partaga, if kept in ignorance of the cost of the latter. The flavor of the Partaga is too delicate for palates that have been accustomed to Connecticut seed leaf. So it is with humor. The finer it is in quality, the more danger of its not being recognized at all. Even Mark Twain has been taken in by an English review of his "Innocents Abroad." Mark Twain is by no means a coarse humorist, but the Englishman's humor is so much finer than his, that he mistakes it for solid earnest, and "larfs most consumedly."
A man who cannot learn stands in his own light. Hereafter, when I write an article which I know to be good, but which I may have reason to fear will not, in some quarters, be considered to amount to much, coming from an American, I will aver that an Englishman wrote it and that it is copied from a London journal. And then I will occupy a back seat and enjoy the cordial applause.
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