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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol II, Part 1: 1875 - 1886|
CXXXVI. "The Prince and the Pauper"
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|During the summer absence alterations were made in the Hartford home,
with extensive decorations by Tiffany. The work was not completed when
the family returned. Clemens wrote to Charles Warren Stoddard, then in
the Sandwich Islands, that the place was full of carpenters and
decorators, whereas what they really needed was "an incendiary."
If the house would only burn down we would pack up the cubs and fly to
the isles of the blest, and shut ourselves up in the healing solitudes of
the crater of Haleakala and get a good rest, for the mails do not intrude
there, nor yet the telephone and the telegraph; and after resting we
would come down the mountain a piece and board with a godly, breech-
clouted native, and eat poi and dirt, and give thanks to whom all thanks
belong for these privileges, and never housekeep any more.
They had acquired more ground. One morning in the spring Mark Twain had
looked out of his window just in time to see a man lift an ax to cut down
a tree on the lot which lay between his own and that of his neighbor. He
had heard that a house was to be built there; altogether too close to him
for comfort and privacy. Leaning out of the window he called sonorously,
"Woodman, spare that tree!" Then he hurried down, obtained a stay of
proceedings, and without delay purchased the lot from the next-door
neighbor who owned it, acquiring thereby one hundred feet of extra ground
and a greenhouse which occupied it. It was a costly purchase; the owner
knew he could demand his own price; he asked and received twelve thousand
dollars for the strip.
In November, Clemens found that he must make another trip to Canada.
'The Prince and the Pauper' was ready for issue, and to insure Canadian
copyright the author must cross the line in person. He did not enjoy the
prospect of a cold-weather trip to the north, and tried to tempt Howells
to go with him, but only succeeded in persuading Osgood, who would do
anything or go anywhere that offered the opportunity for pleasant company
It was by no means an unhappy fortnight. Clemens took a note-book, and
there are plenty of items that give reality to that long-ago excursion.
He found the Canadian girls so pretty that he records it as a relief now
and then to see a plain one. On another page he tells how one night in
the hotel a mouse gnawed and kept him awake, and how he got up and hunted
for it, hoping to destroy it. He made a rebus picture for the children
of this incident in a letter home.
We get a glimpse just here of how he was constantly viewing himself as
literary material--human material--an example from which some literary
aspect or lesson may be drawn. Following the mouse adventure we find it
Trace Father Brebeuf all through this trip, and when I am in a rage
and can't endure the mouse be reading of Brebeuf's marvelous
endurances and be shamed.
And finally, after chasing the bright-eyed rascal several days, and
throwing things and trying to jump on him when in my overshoes, he
darts away with those same bright eyes, then straightway I read
Brebeuf's magnificent martyrdom, and turn in, subdued and wondering.
By and by the thought occurs to me, Brebeuf, with his good, great
heart would spare even that poor humble mousie--and for his sake so
will I--I will throw the trap in the fire--jump out of bed, reach
under, fetch out the trap, and find him throttled there and not two
They gave him a dinner in Montreal. Louis Frechette, the Canadian poet,
was there and Clemens addressed him handsomely in the response he made to
the speech of welcome. From that moment Frechette never ceased to adore
Mark Twain, and visited him soon after the return to Hartford.
'The Prince and the Pauper' was published in England, Canada, Germany,
and America early in December, 1881. There had been no stint of money,
and it was an extremely handsome book. The pen-and-ink drawings were
really charming, and they were lavish as to number. It was an attractive
volume from every standpoint, and it was properly dedicated "To those
good-mannered and agreeable children, Susy and Clara Clemens."
The story itself was totally unlike anything that Mark Twain had done
before. Enough of its plan and purpose has been given in former chapters
to make a synopsis of it unnecessary here. The story of the wandering
prince and the pauper king--an impressive picture of ancient legal and
regal cruelty--is as fine and consistent a tale as exists in the realm of
pure romance. Unlike its great successor, the 'Yankee at King Arthur's
Court', it never sacrifices the illusion to the burlesque, while through
it all there runs a delicate vein of humor. Only here and there is there
the slightest disillusion, and this mainly in the use of some ultra-
modern phrase or word.
Mark Twain never did any better writing than some of the splendid scenes
in 'The Prince and the Pauper'. The picture of Old London Bridge; the
scene in the vagabond's retreat, with its presentation to the little king
of the wrongs inflicted by the laws of his realm; the episode of the jail
where his revelation reaches a climax--these are but a few of the
splendid pictures which the chapters portray, while the spectacle of
England acquiring mercy at the hands of two children, a king and a
beggar, is one which only genius could create. One might quote here, but
to do so without the context would be to sacrifice atmosphere, half the
story's charm. How breathlessly interesting is the tale of it! We may
imagine that first little audience at Mark Twain's fireside hanging
expectant on every paragraph, hungry always for more. Of all Mark
Twain's longer works of fiction it is perhaps the most coherent as to
plot, the most carefully thought out, the most perfect as to workmanship.
This is not to say that it is his greatest story. Probably time will not
give it that rank, but it comes near to being a perfectly constructed
story, and it has an imperishable charm.
It was well received, though not always understood by the public. The
reviewer was so accustomed to looking for the joke in Mark Twain's work,
that he found it hard to estimate this new product. Some even went so
far as to refer to it as one of Mark Twain's big jokes, meaning probably
that he had created a chapter in English history with no foundation
beyond his fancy. Of course these things pained the author of the book.
At one time, he had been inclined to publish it anonymously, to avert
this sort of misunderstanding, and sometimes now he regretted not having
Yet there were many gratifying notices. The New York Herald reviewer
gave the new book two columns of finely intelligent appreciation. In
part he said:
To those who have followed the career of Mark Twain, his appearance
as the author of a charming and noble romance is really no more of a
surprise than to see a stately structure risen upon sightly ground
owned by an architect of genius, with the resources of abundant
building material and ample training at command. Of his capacity
they have had no doubt, and they rejoice in his taking a step which
they felt he was able to take. Through all his publications may be
traced the marks of the path which half led up to this happy height.
His humor has often been the cloak, but not the mask, of a sturdy
purpose. His work has been characterized by a manly love of truth,
a hatred of humbug, and a scorn for cant. A genial warmth and
whole-souledness, a beautiful fancy, a fertile imagination, and a
native feeling for the picturesque and a fine eye for color have
afforded the basis of a style which has become more and more plastic
And in closing:
The characters of these two boys, twins in spirit, will rank with
the purest and loveliest creations of child-life in the realm of