Home  »  Volume XVII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II  »  § 1. Mark Twain’s Place in American Literature

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

VIII. Mark Twain

§ 1. Mark Twain’s Place in American Literature

SAMUEL LANGHORNE CLEMENS, more widely known as Mark Twain, was of the “bully breed” which Whitman had prophesied. Writing outside “the genteel tradition,” he avowedly sought to please the masses, and he was elected to his high place in American literature by a tremendous popular vote, which was justified even in the opinion of severe critics by his exhibition of a masterpiece or so not unworthy of Le Sage or Cervantes. Time will diminish his bulk as it must that of every author of twenty-five volumes; but the great public which discovered him still cherishes most of his books; and his works, his character, and his career have now, and will continue to have, in addition to their strictly literary significance, a large illustrative value, which has been happily emphasized by Albert Bigelow Paine’s admirable biography and collection of letters. Mark Twain is one of our great representative men. He is a fulfilled promise of American life. He proves the virtues of the land and the society in which he was born and fostered. He incarnates the spirit of an epoch of American history when the nation, territorially and spiritually enlarged, entered lustily upon new adventures. In the retrospect he looms for us with Whitman and Lincoln, recognizably his countrymen, out of the shadows of the Civil War, an unmistakable native son of an eager, westward-moving people—unconventional, self-reliant, mirthful, profane, realistic, cynical, boisterous, popular, tender-hearted, touched with chivalry, and permeated to the marrow of his bones with the sentiment of democratic society and with loyalty to American institutions.