I picked up The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn again a couple of weeks ago, and remembered anew what a ripping good read it is, all freedom and action and honest clever morality. And then I stumbled on into the last chapter, which invariably disappoints.

It’s a slyly revolutionary book, using Huck’s apparent naivete again and again to mock the conventions of its day, most importantly slavery. Huck, after all, knows it’s wrong, but just can’t help himself in aiding Jim’s escape.

And it’s full of the most absolutely graceful writing, all the tricks of the craft on display.

And then Twain absolutely blows the whole thing with the last section, when Huck hooks up, via embarassingly unwriterly coincidence, with Tom Sawyer at his Aunt Sally’s. I love the book so much that I sort of forget how disappointing is the end, and then every time I read it I feel sucker-punched. Ah well, still a most rewarding book.

In addition to Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail, there is one thing that is always guaranteed to make me smile with deep humor. It’s young Emmeline Grangerfords ode to the late Stephen Dowling Botts. Emmeline wrote words for the deceased – “Every time a man died, or a woman died, or a child died, she would be on hand with her `tribute’ before he was cold. She called them tributes. The neighbors said it was the doctor first, then Emmeline, then the undertaker.”


And did young Stephen sicken,
And did young Stephen die?
And did the sad hearts thicken,
And did the mourners cry?

No; such was not the fate of
Young Stephen Dowling Bots;
Though sad hearts round him thickened,
‘Twas not from sickness’ shots.

No whooping-cough did rack his frame,
Nor measles drear with spots;
Not these impaired the sacred name
Of Stephen Dowling Bots.

Despised love struck not with woe
That head of curly knots,
Nor stomach troubles laid him low,
Young Stephen Dowling Bots.

O no. Then list with tearful eye,
Whilst I his fate do tell.
His soul did from this cold world fly
By falling down a well.

They got him out and emptied him;
Alas it was too late;
His spirit was gone for to sport aloft
In the realms of the good and great.

Says Huck, “If Emmeline Grangerford could make poetry like that before she was fourteen, there ain’t no telling what she could a done by and by.” (The whole chapter – heck the whole book – is here. That’s what people mean when they talk about the intellectual commons.)


  1. Woah, deja vu. I have been reading quite a bit of Mark Twain over the last couple of weeks — in particular a bunch of his speeches to various groups. Somewhat related to your comment about intellectual commons is this speech of Twain’s:
    (wrapped for convenience).

    His preference is not too popular today, but the 1 in 1000 argument is novel, even if the “ideas as property” argument is not entirely defensible. It is relevant to note that at the time he gave this speech, Twain / Clemens had worked his way out of debt and was back to financially secure towards the end of his life, so his expectation of reasonable income from copyright payments was quite reasonable at that point. That is to say, he was talking about a realistic scenario, rather than something hypothetical that may happen to some other author.

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