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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 163

sort Whitman had promised. Once more the frontier came back upon the older communities as it had done under Andrew Jackson, when David Crockett was a nine-days’ wonder. But Mark Twain was more than a shrewd, barely literate backwoodsman. He had a tumultuous rush of expression; he had, moreover, thanks to Artemus Ward and his fellows, a literary form already prepared for him. Being expected, as a humorist of that type, to employ burlesque, he employed it to make fun of ecstatic travelers, particularly of those whose ecstasy followed the guidebook rather than their own taste and always rose with the reputation of the thing seen. Being expected, too, to be irreverent for humorous effect, he laughed at everything that did not seem to him overpoweringly sacred, and even from sacred moods often extricated himself with a jest. These were the conventions of his order. And as he was individually a husky, unashamed Westerner, when he found much in ancient art and scenery that, to his limited appreciation, fell below what he had heard of it, he said so in a loud voice irritating to fastidious ears. His public, however, was not fastidious. Relieved by the absence of that note of breathlessness which had oppressed it in earlier travel books, it gasped and then roared. Here was a writer who scratched the surface of American culture and found beneath it the rough, insouciant, skeptical, hilarious fiber of the pioneer. Undoubtedly Innocents Abroad flattered the mob with the spectacle of free-born Americans romping through venerable lands and finding them on so many counts inferior to America. The practical jokes of the book have lost much of their power to entertain; nor do the purple pages on which Mark Twain set down,



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