Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/35

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17
"A Connecticut Yankee"

duct of the frontier. He changed the narrator, letting Huck tell his own story, in order to invest the entire narrative in its native garb and colour. Huck perhaps exhibits now and then a little more humour and feeling for nature than a picaro is entitled to possess; but in the main his point of view is well maintained. His strange captivity in his father s cabin, the great flight down the river, the mysteries of fog and night and current, the colloquy on King Sollermun, the superbly incidental narrative of the Grangerford-Shepherdson feud, the appealing devotion and affectionateness of Nigger Jim, Huck's case of conscience,—all are stamped with the peculiar comment of Huck's earthy, callous, but not insensitive soul. The stuff and manner of the tale are unique, and it is as imperishably substantial as Robinson Crusoe, whether one admire it with Andrew Lang as "a nearly flawless gem of romance and humour" or with Professor Matthews as "a marvellously accurate portrayal of a whole civilization."

A Connecticut Yankee at the Court of King Arthur (1889) is a work of humorous invention set in motion by G. W. Cable, who first brought Malory's Morte d' Arthur to Mark Twain's attention. For assignable reasons it has not had the universal admiration enjoyed by Huckleberry Finn; Andrew Lang, for example, could not bring himself to read it; yet one might plausibly argue that it represents Mark Twain more completely than any other single book on his list, and so may serve as a touchstone to distinguish those who care for the man from those who only care for some of his stories. It displays every variety of his style from the mock-heroic and shirt-sleeve journalese of the Yankee's familiar vein to the careful euphonies of his descriptions of English landscape and the Dantean mordancy of the chapter "In the Queen s Dungeons." It exhibits his humour in moods from the grimmest to the gayest, mingling scenes of pathos, terror, and excruciating cruelty with hilarious comic inventions and adventures, which prove their validity for the imagination by abiding in the memory: the sewing-machine worked by the bowing hermit, the mules blushing at the jokes of the pilgrims, the expedition with Alisande, the contests with Merlin, the expedition with King Arthur, Launcelot and the bicycle squad, and the annihilation of the chivalry of England. The hero is, despite the title, no mere Yankee but Mark Twain's

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  1. VOL. Ill—2