Still adhering to his plan of narrating the adventures of boys, with a primevaland Robin Hood freshness, he has broadened his canvas and given us a picture of a people, of ageographical region, of a life that is new in the world. The scene of his romance is the Mississippi river. Mr. Clemens has written of this river before specifically, but he has not before presented it to the imagination sodistinctly nor so powerfully. Huck Finn’s voyage down the Mississippi with the run away nigger Jim, and withoccasionally other companions, is an adventure fascinating in itself as any of the classic outlaw stories, but inorder that the reader may know what the author has done for him, let him notice the impression left on his mindof this lawless, mysterious, wonderful Mississippi, when he has closed the book. But it is not alone the river thatis indelibly impressed upon the mind, the life that went up and down it and went on along its banks areprojected with extraordinary power.
Incidentally, and with a true artistic instinct, the villages, the cabins, thepeople of this river become startlingly real. The beauty of this is that it is apparently done without effort. Huckfloating down the river happens to see these things and to encounter the people and the characters that madethe river famous forty years ago–that is all. They do not have the air of being invented, but of being found. Andthe dialects of the people, white and black–what a study are they; and yet nobody talks for the sake ofexhibiting a dialect.
It is not necessary to believe the surprising adventures that Huck engages in, but no onewill have a moment’s doubt of the reality of the country and the people he meets. Another thing to be marked in the story is its dramatic power. Take the story of the Southern Vendetta–amarvelous piece of work in a purely literary point of view–and the episode of the duke and the king, with itspictures of Mississippi communities, both of which our readers probably saw in the Century magazine. Theyare equaled in dramatic force by nothing recently in literature. We are not in this notice telling the story or quoting from a book that nearly everybody is sure to read, but it isproper to say that Mr.
Clemens strikes in a very amusing way certain psychological problems. What, forinstance, in the case of Huck, the son of the town drunkard, perverted from the time of his birth, is conscience,and how does it work? Most amusing is the struggle Huck has with his conscience in regard to slavery. Hisconscience tells him, the way it has been instructed, that to help the runaway, nigger Jim to escape–to aid instealing the property of Miss Watson, who has never injured him, is an enormous offense that will no doubtcarry him to the bad place; but his affection for Jim finally induces him to violate his conscience and risk eternalpunishment in helping Jim to escape. The whole study of Huck’s moral nature is as serious as it is amusing, hisconfusion of wrong as right and his abnormal mendacity, traceable to his training from infancy, is a singularcontribution to the investigation of human nature. These contradictions, however, do not interfere with the fun of the story, which has all the comicality, all the oddway of looking at life, all the whimsical turns of thought and expression that have given the author his wide fameand made him sui generis. The story is so interesting so full of life and dramatic force, that the reader will becarried along irresistibly, and the time he loses in laughing he will make up in diligence to hurry along and findout how things come out.