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


Page 167

typifies an entire age which had newly begun to realize the enormous resources of the continent and was mad, was ridiculous, with the fever of desire for sudden riches. The age was gilded. Mark Twain, just arrived from simpler regions, mocked the tedious formalisms and accused the brazen corruptions of the capital. To judge by his share of this joint record he was ready to become a national satirist and to hurl his laughter against a thousand abuses deserving scorn.
  A national satirist, however, he did not become. Partly from excess of patriotism, partly from a lack of the literary seriousness which might have enabled him to hold out against the influence of his wife and of his new environment, he did not assume, at least in public, the unpopular rôle of critic. Instead, urged by Howells, he turned back to his Middle Western recollections and wrote for the Atlantic in 1875 his Old Times on the Mississippi, later included in Life on the Mississippi (1883), and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876). Life on the Mississippi belongs with the most precious American books. The second part, indeed, which reports a journey Mark Twain made in 1882 to visit old scenes, rises in parts little above good reporting, though all of it conveys a sense of the deeps of many memories beneath the adventures it recounts. But the first twenty chapters flash and glow as even the highest passages of Roughing It had not done. Herein are set down with a crowded accuracy warmed by eloquence and affection the impressions of Mark Twain’s eager youth, of his old aspirations toward the river, of his struggle to attain mastery over it, of his consummate hours as pilot. The splendor of those days had



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