MARK TWAIN’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY AND FIRST ROMANCE. Sheldon & Co. Sold by Philp & Solomons.
By far the best humorist our country has produced is the inimitable Mark Twain. His is genuine hearty humor. He asks no aids from bad spelling or other tricks common to funny writers. The grotesque association of subjects widely dissimilar in some respects, and yet ludicrously alike when brought together; the unexpected and therefore ridiculous conclusions from premises that suggested nothing of the sort; the gravity that is forced like a mask on the trial and absurd things, are all his, and seem not only natural but inexhaustible. He appears to bubble up and run over with fun.
Of all our humorists the late Captain Derby, known to the world as “Squibob,” came nearer to Twain in these characteristics. The violent exaggerations of Artemus Ward, the quaint, labored humor of Josh Billings; the narrow atrocities of Nasby all appear labored, and soon become tiresome by the side of the two who were born jesters, and find instinctively the ludicrous side of all subjects.
We all know, although few are able to define it, the differences between wit and humor. Of the artist, Mark Twain has very little; of the last, an immense supply. Genuine wit seldom excites laughter. It is too delicate and refined to reach the surface. Over Twain the laughter is incessant and hearty. The autobiography averages one picture to every page. Under the title is the only illustration pertinent of the book. It is called “Our Family Tree,” and shows us a gallows with an ancestral Twain suspended. The style is a neat burlesque on such historical works. For example, on page four, he tells us.
“Arthour Twain was a man of considerable note – a solicitor on the highway in William Rufus’ time. At about the age of thirty he went to one of those fine old English places of resort called Newgate, to see about something, and never returned again. While there he died suddenly.
Augusts Twain seems to have made something of a stir about the year 1160. He was as full of fun as he could be, and used to take his old sabre and sharpen it up, and get in a convenient place on a dark night, and stick it through people as they went by, to see them jump. He was a born humorist. But he got to going too far with it; and the first time he was found stripping one of these parties, the authorities removed one end of him, and put it up on a nice high place on Temple Bar, where it could contemplate the people and have a good time. He never liked any situation so much or stuck to it so long.”
Again, on page six, we learn that –
“Early in the fifteenth century we have Beau Twain, called ‘the Scholar.’ He wrote a beautiful, beautiful hand. And he could imitate anybody’s hand so closely that it was enough to make a person laugh his head off to see it. He had infinite sport with his talent. But by and by he took a contract to break stone for a road, and the roughness of the work spoiled his hand. Still, he enjoyed life all the time he was in the stone business, which with inconsiderable intervals, was some forty-two years. In fact, he died in harness. During all those long years he gave such satisfaction that he never was through with one contract a week till government gave him another. He was a perfect pet. And he was always a favorite with his fellow-artists, and was a conspicuous member of their secret society, called the Chain Gang. He always wore his hair short, had a preference for striped clothes, and died lamented by the Government. He was a sorry loss to his country. For he was so regular.”
One of the best sketches is of that ancestor who crossed with Columbus to the continent of America as a passenger. But it is too long for our space.