So it is only another instance of his remembering, as he once quaintly put it, "the thing that didn't happen."--[In an article in the North American Review (September 21, 1906) Mr. Clemens stated that he found it necessary to telegraph notice that he would bring suit if the book was not immediately issued. In none of the letters covering this period is there any suggestion of delay on the part of the publishers, and the date of the final return of proofs, together with the date of publication, preclude the possibility of such a circumstance. At some period of his life he doubtless sent, or contemplated sending, such a message, and this fact, through some curious psychology, became confused in his mind with the first edition of The Innocents Abroad.]
THE GREAT BOOK OF TRAVEL
'The Innocents Abroad' was a success from the start. The machinery for its sale and delivery was in full swing by August 1, and five thousand one hundred and seventy copies were disposed of that month--a number that had increased to more than thirty-one thousand by the first of the year. It was a book of travel; its lowest price was three and a half dollars. No such record had been made by a book of that description; none has equaled it since.--[One must recall that this was the record only up to 1910. D.W.]
If Mark Twain was not already famous, he was unquestionably famous now. As the author of The New Pilgrim's Progress he was swept into the domain of letters as one riding at the head of a cavalcade--doors and windows wide with welcome and jubilant with applause. Newspapers chorused their enthusiasm; the public voiced universal approval; only a few of the more cultured critics seemed hesitant and doubtful.
They applauded--most of them--but with reservation. Doctor Holland regarded Mark Twain as a mere fun maker of ephemeral popularity, and was not altogether pleasant in his dictum. Doctor Holmes, in a letter to the author, speaks of the "frequently quaint and amusing conceits," but does not find it in his heart to refer to the book as literature. It was naturally difficult for the East to concede a serious value to one who approached his subject with such militant aboriginality, and occasionally wrote "those kind." William Dean Howells reviewed the book in the Atlantic, which was of itself a distinction, whether the review was favorable or otherwise. It was favorable on the whole, favorable to the humor of the book, its "delicious impudence," the charm of its good- natured irony. The review closed:
It is no business of ours to fix his rank among the humorists California has given us, but we think he is, in an entirely different way from all the others, quite worthy of the company of the best.
This is praise, but not of an intemperate sort, nor very inclusive. The descriptive, the poetic, the more pretentious phases of the book did not receive attention. Mr. Howells was perhaps the first critic of eminence to recognize in Mark Twain not only the humorist, but the supreme genius- the "Lincoln of our literature." This was later. The public--the silent public--with what Howells calls "the inspired knowledge of the simple- hearted multitude," reached a similar verdict forthwith. And on sufficient evidence: let the average unprejudiced person of to-day take up the old volume and read a few chapters anywhere and decide whether it is the work of a mere humorist, or also of a philosopher, a poet, and a seer. The writer well remembers a little group of "the simple-hearted multitude" who during the winter of '69 and '70 gathered each evening to hear the Innocents read aloud, and their unanimous verdict that it was the "best book of modern times."
It was the most daring book of its day. Passages of it were calculated to take the breath of the orthodox reader; only, somehow, it made him smile, too. It was all so good-natured, so openly sincere. Without doubt it preached heresy--the heresy of viewing revered landmarks and relics joyously, rather than lugubriously; reverentially, when they inspired reverence; satirically, when they invited ridicule, and with kindliness always.