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The New York Times, October 15, 1924



In the two volumes of "Mark Twain's Autobiography" which the Harpers are bringing out we have a work out of the ordinary in many senses. The scheme of the writing is such as it never entered the head of another man to conceive. It is without order, chronological or other; shows very little feeling for division or proportion of subjects; is absolutely hit or miss in method and effect; yet it makes for the most part entertaining reading. MARK TWAIN, apparently of his own volition, wrote various scraps of reminiscence. He did this at long intervals of time, and seemed to fall out of the whim of going on with the task of an autobiography at all. But some of his friends and literary advisers pitched upon the idea of pinning him down during his customary mornings in bed or while walking about his room, and induced him to dictate whatever came into his mind out of an interesting past. The whole product is thus uncoordinated and sprawling, but goes extremely well with the haphazard and discursive mood which so often became predominant MARK TWAIN during his later years.

An amusing aspect of this lack of plan in his autobiography is that MARK TWAIN came to delight in it and to praise it as a wonderful literary invention. At first he was averse to attempting anything of the sort, and thought that nothing could be done with it. But little by little his distaste was overcome, and toward the end we find him triumphantly arguing with Mr. HOWELLS that this way of writing an autobiography was the best that had ever been devised, and would insure a multitude of readers for years to come. He felt sure that what enthralled and absorbed him at any given moment would be certain to come to others with a spontaneity and verve that could not be commanded in an ordered narrative. The result was a mass of unrelated and disjointed recollections, the author often breaking off at a word, or giving first place to some new idea which crowded out the old one that he was perfectly ready to drop; yet somehow the volumes succeed in recalling vividly MARK TWAIN in habit as he was.

This autobiography of his abounds in the rough humor of exaggeration of which he was so fond, yet it occasionally embalms, as in the characterization of his mother and of his wife, some of that delicate sentiment and nice perception exquisitely expressed with which his writings have made all familiar. There is also a record of many personal contacts and experiences which go to making the full picture of his life. Occasionally, too, the book gives fresh revelations of MARK TWAIN'S independence of character and of judgment, together with his capacity for moral indignation. His autobiography may be formless, but it is very much alive. The one thing which it cannot reproduce is the impenetrable mask which he was able to make his face assume, with the hesitant drawl signalizing his approach to witticisms and to the Orson-like utterances with which he delighted to flutter the dovecotes in private conversation and at public meetings.

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