The "Strange Dream," though ending in a joke, is aglow with poetry. Webb's "advertisement" was playfully written, but it was earnestly intended, and he writes Mark Twain down a moralist--not as a discovery, but as a matter of course. The discoveries came along later, when the author's fame as a humorist had dazzled the nations.
It is as well to say it here as anywhere, perhaps, that one reason why Mark Twain found it difficult to be accepted seriously was the fact that his personality was in itself so essentially humorous. His physiognomy, his manner of speech, this movement, his mental attitude toward events-- all these were distinctly diverting. When we add to this that his medium of expression was nearly always full of the quaint phrasing and those surprising appositions which we recognize as amusing, it is not so astonishing that his deeper, wiser, more serious purpose should be overlooked. On the whole these unabated discoverers serve a purpose, if only to make the rest of their species look somewhat deeper than the comic phrase.
The little blue-and-gold volume which presented the Frog story and twenty-six other sketches in covers is chiefly important to-day as being Mark Twain's first book. The selections in it were made for a public that had been too busy with a great war to learn discrimination, and most of them have properly found oblivion. Fewer than a dozen of them were included in his collected Sketches issued eight years later, and some even of those might have been spared; also some that were added, for that matter; but detailed literary criticism is not the province of this work. The reader may investigate and judge for himself.
Clemens was pleased with the appearance of his book. To Bret Harte he wrote:
The book is out and it is handsome. It is full of damnable errors of grammar and deadly inconsistencies of spelling in the Frog sketch, because I was away and did not read proofs; but be a friend and say nothing about these things. When my hurry is over, I will send you a copy to pisen the children with.
That he had no exaggerated opinion of the book's contents or prospects we may gather from his letter home:
As for the Frog book, I don't believe it will ever pay anything worth a cent. I published it simply to advertise myself, and not with the hope of making anything out of it.
He had grown more lenient in his opinion of the merits of the Frog story itself since it had made friends in high places, especially since James Russell Lowell had pronounced it "the finest piece of humorous writing yet produced in America"; but compared with his lecture triumph, and his prospective journey to foreign seas, his book venture, at best, claimed no more than a casual regard. A Sandwich Island book (he had collected his Union letters with the idea of a volume) he gave up altogether after one unsuccessful offer of it to Dick & Fitzgerald.
Frank Fuller's statement, that the fame had arrived, had in it some measure of truth. Lecture propositions came from various directions. Thomas Nast, then in the early day of his great popularity, proposed a joint tour, in which Clemens would lecture, while he, Nast, illustrated the remarks with lightning caricatures. But the time was too short; the Quaker City would sail on the 8th of June, and in the mean time the Alta correspondent was far behind with his New York letters. On May 29th he wrote:
I am 18 Alta letters behind, and I must catch up or bust. I have refused all invitations to lecture. Don't know how my book is coming on.
He worked like a slave for a week or so, almost night and day, to clean up matters before his departure. Then came days of idleness and reaction-days of waiting, during which his natural restlessness and the old-time regret for things done and undone, beset him.
My passage is paid, and if the ship sails I sail on her; but I make no calculations, have bought no cigars, no sea-going clothing--have made no preparations whatever--shall not pack my trunk till the morning we sail.