Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/28

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10
Mark Twain

left the stony dreamer solitary in the midst of a strange new age, and uncomprehended scenes.


But one turns the page and comes upon the engineer who feeds his locomotive with mummies, occasionally calling out pettishly, "D—n these plebeians, they don't burn worth a cent—pass out a king."

In Roughing It (1872) he chose a subject doubtless less interesting to some good people of the Atlantic seaboard than a European tour—the narrative of his journey across the plains to Carson City, and his life and adventures in Nevada, California, and the Sandwich Islands. Various critics, however, have preferred it to Innocents Abroad as a truer book; and in a sense the preference is justifiable. As literal history, to be sure, or as autobiography, it is untrustworthy. Mark Twain follows his own advice to Rudyard Kipling: "Young man, first get your facts; then distort them as you please." He distorts the facts in Roughing It, and vitalizes them by a poetical enlargement and interpretation thoroughly characteristic of native Western humour. In painting frontier manners, no longer an outsider, as he was in Europe, he abandons the attitude of one exposing illusions, and seeks to exhibit the West under the glamour of imagination. His coyote, turning with a smile upon the pursuing hound and vanishing with a "rushing sound, and the sudden splitting of a long crack in the atmosphere"—his coyote is a beast of fable; so is his jackrabbit; so is his broncho; so is his Brigham Young. On all his pioneers, his stage-drivers, his miners, his desperadoes, his boon-companions he has breathed with a heroizing emotion recollected in literary tranquillity. In the clear light of the vanished El Dorado of his youth they and their mountains and forests loom for him larger than common nature, more passionate, more picturesque.

A Tramp Abroad (1880) sprang from no such fund of delightful experience and mellow recollection but from an expedition to Europe deliberately undertaken in order to escape from the growing harassment of business responsibilities and to collect material for a book. Before he could work himself into a satisfactory writing mood he found it necessary to invent a new humorous attitude and literary character. His new invention has three parts. In the first place, he announces him-