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Articles and Sketches by America's Favorite Humorist

by Mark Twain & edited by Joseph B. McCullough

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-87580-249-4

Scholars and researchers may delight in this collection of Twain editorials and sketches from his days at the Buffalo (N.Y.) Express, but the general reader will want to hunt and peck for the “good parts.” Twain bought part interest in the Express in 1869 and spent 18 months as its managing editor and editorial writer. This was a “pivotal period” for the writer, the editors note, “that marked his transition from sometime journalist to celebrated author.” Up to then, he’d been a “vagabond travel writer and lecturer”; the popularity of Innocents Abroad changed all that. Many of the pieces collected here are burlesques, slapstick turns and tall tales the editors view as “narrative experiments,” precursors to his style and approach as a novelist. His “Around the World” letters, written jointly with Professor D.R. Ford (who “does the actual traveling . . . such facts as escape his notice are supplied by” Twain), would be recycled into the novel Roughing It. Arranged chronologically, many of these sketches and unsigned editorials show his growing frustration with journalism as a profession. Twain often took up a subject in direct response to the sensational reportage of another paper. One such series of editorials began in the fall of 1869 with Harriet Beecher Stowe’s revelation of Lady Byron’s disclosure to her of Lord Byron’s alleged incest with his sister. Other items of interest include Twain’s railings against the ill-treatment of former slaves, his humorous profile of Henry Ward Beecher (“The great preacher never sleeps with his clothes on”), and his interview with a Wild Man in Kansas (one of many hoaxes he delights in). Unfortunately, a lot of this work is too much of its time; their point and humor may well be lost on the modern reader. The long, dry, scholarly introduction by the editors (who teach at Univ. of Nevada, Las Vegas, and St. Louis Univ. respectively) offers little help.