Stating that it is his belief that Mark Twain was a ""conscious and deliberate creator"" and that one of the purposes of this book is to treat him as such instead of the ""know-nothing"" many believed him to be, the author of this critical treatise explores at length the development of ""southwestern"" American humor and its relation to Mark Twain's literary and political development. The ""southwestern"" humorists originated in Virginia in the 1700's with such writers as William Byrd II (The Dividing Line) and others; in the 19th century frontier authors used frontier and plantation dialect and tall tales for humorous and political effect, creating myths such as ""the mighty hunters"" and ""the Happy Darky""; to these now forgotten writers the author traces the humorous background of many of Mark Twain's early books: The Jumping Frog, Roughing It, Innocents Abroad, etc. He believes that from them Mark Twain also derived the moral beliefs underlying The Gilded Age and Huckleberry Finn, and much of his own conservatism. Critical comments on great humorists are seldom easy reading and this book is no exception; it should, however, be of value to students and historians of early American humor and of Mark Twain's writings. Ordinary readers may prefer the man himself to this scholarly analysis of what makes him tick.