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


Page 182

his peccadilloes. Only by assuring himself that no one deserves such blame could Mark Twain quiet his raging conscience. The fault lies with the bungled system on which the universe is made; with the intelligences which created it and continue to play wanton pranks upon it; still more upon any competent intelligence, if there is one, which refuses to exercise mercy and destroy the miserable race of men.
  Such philosophic nihilism did not constantly possess Mark Twain during the disturbed last dozen years of his life. In The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg (1899) he produced a corrosive apologue on the effects of greed, which here overthrows all the respectable reputations in a smug provincial town. Only one of them wins pity; the others appear not as moral automatons but as responsible thieves and hypocrites. And similarly The $30,000 Bequest (1904) traces in a foolish couple the fatal influence of the anticipation of wealth. What Mark Twain had once thought hugely comic in Colonel Sellers he had now come, after his own hot hopes and disappointments, to regard as one of the first of follies, if not of offenses. In neither story, however, are the negligent or malicious higher powers shown at work, unless it is through the poor frailties of the men and women. Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven (published 1908 but written fully forty years before) took a very substantial sailor to heaven as the Connecticut Yankee had taken a skeptical mechanic to Arthur’s Court. That Mark Twain originally thought his whimsy blasphemous and suppressed it so long shows how orthodox—and how unimaginative—was the social stratum from which he derived and which



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