The Tar Baby and the Tomahawk: Race and Ethnic Images in American Children's Literature, 1880-1939


Dear Mr. Twain:

How can you call my stupefaction at the Tile Club dinner admirable? I suffered the agony of the damned twice over, and when I reflected that probably Mr. Osgood was prepared to put me through a similar experience in Boston, I thought it would be better to come home and commit suicide rather than murder a number of worthy gentlemen by making an ass of myself. Still, you will not escape. I shall have to go to Canada any way, and I'm going by way of Hartford. Next spring probably.

I enclose the notice of the S. W. E. [note] Did Mr. Osgood send you the notice of 'The Prince and the Pauper'? That notice expressed my ideas more fully, and I think, by George! that Mr. Howells had it framed in front of him when he wrote the Century

Harris refers to a biographical sketch of Clemens that Howell published in Century Magazine September, 1882

Faithfully yours:
Joel C. Harris

TWO NEW BOOKS. The STOLEN WHITE ELEPHANT,etc. By Mark Twain. Boston: James R. Osgood & Co. Advanced sheets. To be had by Holman, Coffin & Co. The announcement of a new book by this genial humorist is rather in the nature of a surprise. Only the other day, accompanied by Mr. Osgood himself, who is a gentleman of marvelous social and business resources. Mr. Clemens was journeying up and down the Mississippi in search of material for a new volume. Nobody knows whether it is to be a comedy or an emotional drama, but it has been hinted that the reconstructed Missourian will endeavor to repay some of the venerable pilots who puff, and blow, and gas on the Father of Waters for remembering him so readily. Meantime, while all this was going on, the Osgoods in Boston were hurrying forward this volume, the advance sheets of which have reached us. Heretofore, Mr. Clemens, who is in the habit of looking keenly after his interests, has not displayed any fondness for publishers. He has been inclined to look upon them as the inventors of a new and profitable method of highway robbery, and he has had a theory that a man who writes a book ought to secure at least as large a share of the profits as the man who prints it. Doubtless he has not given up his theory. It is a very comfortable one, and has been the means of bringing him in a couple of hundred thousand dollars, more or less. But he seems to have met his fate, so far as publishers are concerned, in Mr. Osgood, for this volume, published in Boston yesterday, is the first book which Mr. Clemens has entrusted to the regular channels of the book trade, the only one which may be bought of any bookseller who may desire to keep it in stock. This is the beginning of a new policy on the part of the author, and, as he is one of the few literary men in the country who have an eye for business, it can hardly be said to be an experiment. In its general character, the new book is similar to Mark Twain's well known "Sketches," of which more than one hundred thousand copies have been sold. It consists of eighteen sketches and short stories, the first of which, "The Stolen White Elephant," gives it its title. In other climes than ours, this story might seem to be a stupendous development of facts. It is in fact a pungent satire upon the fraudulent concerns known as detective agencies, and as a satire, it points its own pithy moral. This is the unctuous feature that separates Mr. Clemens's writings widely and permanently from the host of imitators that have sprung up, and from the great bulk of the so-called humor of the day. Exaggeration is ludicrous, but it is not genuine humor; and the difference between tween Mark Twain and those who give forth exaggerations only is the fundamental difference that exists between emptiness and pungency. It is the difference that makes trash of one and literature of the other. A little study of the most (apparently) reckless sketch in this volume will show that it has a purpose beyond that which lies upon the surface—the keen blade of satire is sheathed in a most kindly humor which by no means interferes with the carving arrangements. Witness, for instance, the side-splitting essay "On the Decay of the Art of Lying, read at a Meeting of the Historical and Antiquarian Club of Hartford." After one is through laughing at the humor of this essay, then one has an opportunity to discover that it is really a satire upon the social environment which compels people to lie in spite of themselves. There is another quality of Mr. Clemens's writings, which has never been appreciated at its full value because it has grown up quietly under the shadow of his humor. We allude to his remarkable powers of description displayed not only in connection with the people he meets, but
in connection with the scenery which happens to strike his fancy. We should select "Some Rambling Notes of an Idle Excursion" as by far the best sketch from a literary point of view to be found in the new volume. The humor is delightful, the character drawing is exceptionally fine, and the descriptions of natural scenery—little bits of color here and there—are genuine revelations. They are thoroughly sympathetic, showing that the man who gave the first impulse to what has come to be a wild riot of American humor, has a keen appreciation of the subtler manifestations of character as well as h e​ faculty of interpreting the manifestations of nature. Nothing need be said of the humor; that is understood as a matter of course. When it doesn't drown out everything else, it subsides into a gentle undertone and then is at its best. Here is a pretty little picture of Bermuda:

"The country roads curve and wind hither and thither in the delightfulest way, unfolding pretty surprises at every turn; billowy masses of oleander that seem to float out from behind distant projections like the pink cloud-banks of sunset; sudden plunges among cottages and gardens, life and activity, followed by as sudden plunges into the somber twilight and stillness of the woods; flitting visions of white fortresses and beacon towers pictured against the sky on remote hill-tops; glimpses of shining green sea caught for a moment through opening headlands, then lost again; more woods and solitude; and by and by another turn lays bare, without warning, the full sweep of the inland ocean, enriched with its bars of soft color, and graced with its wandering sails."

This was Mr. Clemens speaking. Presently Mr. Twain has the floor. What is he saying?

We saw a tree that bears grapes, and just as calmly and unostentatiously as a vine would do it. We saw an India rubber tree, but out of season, possibly, as there were no shoes on it, nor suspenders, nor anything that a person could properly expect to find there. This gave it an impressively fraudulent look. There was exactly one mahogany tree on the island. I know this to be reliable, because I saw a man who said he had counted it many a time and could not be mistaken. He was a man with a hare lip and a pure heart, and everybody said he was as true as steel. Such men are all too few.

Mr. Clemens's humorous perceptions enable him to go to the very core of character, and his later work, notably "The Prince and the Pauper," shows a remarkable development of the sense of artistic purpose and proportion. Putting this and that and some other things together, we may remark that should he finally write the American novel that everybody is waiting for, some would probably be surprised, but there are a great many others who would receive the information as a matter of course. Meanwhile, those who are content to wait for that performance can pass away a portion of the time very pleasantly by securing this volume of sketches.