The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.VIII. Mark Twain
§ 11. Roughing It
In Roughing It (1872) he chose a subject doubtless less interesting to some good people of the Atlantic seaboard than a European tour—the narrative of his journey across the plains to Carson City, and his life and adventures in Nevada, California, and the Sandwich Islands. Various critics, however, have preferred it to Innocents Abroad as a truer book; and in a sense the preference is justifiable. As literal history, to be sure, or as autobiography, it is untrustworthy. Mark Twain follows his own advice to Rudyard Kipling: “Young man, first get your facts; then distort them as you please.” He distorts the facts in Roughing It, and vitalizes them by a poetical enlargement and interpretation thoroughly characteristic of native Western humour. In painting frontier manners, no longer an outsider, as he was in Europe, he abandons the attitude of one exposing illusions, and seeks to exhibit the West under the glamour of imagination. His coyote, turning with a smile upon the pursuing hound and vanishing with a “rushing sound, and the sudden splitting of a long crack in the atmosphere”—his coyote is a beast of fable; so is his jackrabbit; so is his broncho; so is his Brigham Young. On all his pioneers, his stagedrivers, his miners, his desperadoes, his boon-companions he has breathed with a heroizing emotion recollected in literary tranquillity. In the clear light of the vanished E1 Dorado of his youth they and their mountains and forests loom for him larger than common nature, more passionate, more picturesque.