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The New York Times, June 3, 1917


When a famous writer dies there is frequently an increased output of new books from his pen extending, in some cases, over a period of years. These new books, as a rule, add nothing of real substance to the dead author's fame; more often, indeed, they detract from it. The late WATTS-DUNTON, for instance, published in his lifetime a novel that was at once recognized as a masterly work of creative literature. "Aylwin" was the result of a score and more years of patient study, during which the entire novel was recast and rewritten several times before its author consented to its publication. Had the book been published in one of the earlier stages of its development WATTS-DUNTON would doubtless have suffered in reputation as a writer of fiction, and nothing of value would have been added to our literature through the premature appearance of "Aylwin." Now that WATTS-DUNTON is dead, the manuscripts of two novels have been found among his papers. They are at once published, and turn out to be very poor, crude stuff indeed. Any one knowing their author's conscientious scruples in matters of literary art must feel certain that he never would have consented to their appearance in their present unfinished condition, that he would have been horrified at the association of his name with such uncouth offspring. But there they are, and posterity's estimate of their author will be largely influenced by these posthumous misdeeds of his.

The case of WATTS-DUNTON is only one of many illustrating the mistaken zeal that is apt to inspire a deceased writer's admirers. Usually the desire seems to be to gather up every scrap of juvenilia, or what-not, that an author has written - and discarded - and bring it out in a posthumous volume, or volumes. There are few poets in past generations who have not suffered in this respect. Even in so recent and interesting a case as RUPERT BROOKE, on cannot help thinking that his fame would have burned with a steadier, clearer light if many of his earlier ventures with the muse had been left out of the posthumous volume of his work. So, too, one cannot help thinking that the fame of Mark Twain will not be enhanced by the posthumous volume of his essays that has just appeared under the title "What Is Man?" (Harpers.) Of course, in the case of so high a name it will be argued, and with much seeming justice, that anything by Mark Twain should be published. A glance at the present volume bears this out - in a measure. For instance, the poignant chapter, "The Death of Jean," written within four months of his own death, will be read with appreciation and reverence by all to whom the name of Mark Twain means much in life as well as in literature. It was intended to be the final chapter to Mr. CLEMENS'S autobiography, according to a prefatory note by Mr. ALBERT BIGELOW PAINE. So, too, there is pleasure enough to be derived from reading some of the lighter essays in the volume. There are, for the most part, sufficiently stamped with the Mark Twain humor to insure them a welcome reception from his admirers. But there seems to be little by way of excuse to be said for the publication of the initial essay, "What Is Man?" This essay, occupying nearly a third of the present volume, was published anonymously, and for private circulation only, eleven years ago. It would be difficult to find anything more dreary, cynical, pessimistic than the view of life here revealed. One refused to believe that it voices the settled, mature convictions held by Mr. CLEMENS - at least one does not wish to believe it. Remembering that he himself had the essay privately printed, it is reasonable to suppose that Mr. CLEMENS did not care to have "What Is Man?" included with his acknowledged works. It seems a pity that it has not been allowed to remain in the obscurity to which he had apparently assigned it. What gain is there is being told that man is merely a machine, and that there is practically nothing real in his idealism, no basis for his brave dreams, his aspirations toward a life of spiritual beauty and achievement? There is nothing new in pessimism of this kind. It seems singularly out of place in the work of a writer who has done so much, through his joyous humor, to lighten the burdens of his generation. But there it is - the penalty of the posthumous. It is a curious essay altogether. Doubtless there are readers who will find much to admire in it - but they will be the readers who rejoice in a gloomy view of things. The rest will refuse to accept this as a lasting, authentic message from Mark Twain.

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