Mark Twain long since learned the art of writing for the market. His recent books have the character of commercial ventures. He probably estimates in advance his profits. His books are not sold to any great extent over the counters of booksellers, but are circulated by subscription agents. Lately Mark Twain, it is reported, has become the silent partner in a publishing house, the imprint of which is on the present volume. Those who read "Tom Sawyer" and like it will probably read "Huckleberry Finn," and like it in a less degree. No book has been put on the market with more advertising. When Mark Twain represented "Tom Sawyer" as getting a job of free white-washing done by his cronies, because there was fun in it, and only just enough to go around, he disclosed his own tactics in the matter of free advertising. When it was given out that some one had tampered with the engravings in the printing office, in a mysterious way, that accounted for the delay in bringing out the book, it secured at the same time many thousand dollars' worth of free advertising. Then the Century gave the enterprise a lift by publishing a chapter of the book in advance, which, while an advertisement, was still a readable article. "Huckleberry Finn" has been introduced to the world as it were with the blare of trumpets. It comes also with this warning: "Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot." So then there is neither motive, moral, nor plot. But there still remain one hundred and seventy-four wood cuts, which, according to the view of the author, ought to be liberally peppered through the volume. Many of the designs are drawn with spirit, and are all executed well enough for the plan of the book.
The tone of the volume is indicated in the opening paragraphs:
You don't know me, without you have read a book by the name of "The Adventures of 'Tom Sawyer,' " but that ain't no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth mainly. There were things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied, one time or another, without it was "Aunt Polly" or the widow, or maybe "Mary." "Aunt Polly"--Tom's "Aunt Polly," she is--and "Mary," and the "widow Douglas," is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book; with stretchers, as I said before.
The author starts out by telling his juvenile readers that there are some lies in his book--that most people lie, and that it is not very bad after all. Of course the warning is timely that persons attempting to seek a moral in the story should be banished.
Now the way the book winds up is this: "Tom" and me found the money that the robbers hid in the cave, and it made us rich. We got $6,000 a piece--all gold. It was an awful sight of money when it was piled up. Well, "Judge Thatcher," he took it and put it out at interest, and it fetched us a dollar a day apiece all the year round--more than a body could tell what to do with. The "widow Douglas," she took me for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me; but it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal, regular and decent the widow was in all her ways; and so, when I could stand it no longer, I lit out. I got into my old rags and my sugar hogshead again, and was free and satisfied. But "Tom Sawyer," he hunted me up and said he was going to start a band of robbers, and I might join if I would go back to the widow and be respectable. So I went back.
It is an amusing story if such scrap-work can be called a story. The author rarely fails when he sets out to tickle the ribs of young or old. There is so little genuine wit in the world, that the little must be made to go a great way. Mark Twain has the genuine vein; it nearly pinches out here and there, and in many places it is hardly an inch wide by miners' measurement. The funny book will always be read in this world of dryness and dearth. Many fastidious people hide their scruples, because they want to be amused. Comedy pays better than tragedy. The author contrives to puncture a great many shams. His satire in this respect, even when he declares that it is aimless, is directed with a purpose. Whether young people who read this volume will be the better for it will be an open question. Here is another paragraph where the warning not to seek for a moral might be applicable:
Every night, now I used to slip ashore, towards 10 o'clock, at some little village, and buy ten or fifteen cents' worth of meal, or bacon, or other stuff to eat, and sometimes I lifted a chicken that warn't roosting comfortable, and took him along. Pap always said, take a chicken when you get a chance, because if you don't want him yourself you can easy find somebody that does, and a good deed ain't ever forgot. I never see pap when he didn't want the chicken himself, but that is what he used to say, anyway.
The author turns his knowledge of Western dialects to account. Mississippi river scenes and associations are always available. The art of book-making from Twain's point of view is well illustrated here. He is alive always to the fact that young people will not read a dull book. He never makes a dull one. There is very little of literary art in the story. It is a string of incidents ingeniously fastened together. The spice of juvenile wickedness and dare-deviltry give a zest to the book. "Huckleberry Finn" is, in a restricted sense, a typical character. Yet the type is not altogether desirable, nor is it one that most parents who want a future of promise for their young folks would select without some hesitation. The trouble with "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn" is not that they are too good for this world; even as the world goes, they are not good enough. Beyond the recognition that there is a great deal of "fun," as boys would put the case, it must also be admitted that not a little of the "assisted wit" is of the more dreary sort, as if the author was subjected to a pretty hard strain at times to work his facetious vein. The book is attractive enough to command commercial success, and that, it may be supposed, was the inspiring motive in its production.
Charles L. Webster & Co., publishers, New York. For sale by the Occidental Publishing Company, sole agents.