Either it took me a while to get into this small collection of essays, or the first two were rubbish. Still, I got there in the end.
Strangely, at least to the best of my memory, this was to be my first encounter with Twain. The third piece switched me on, a somewhat ill-tempered attack on the folly of some individuals who had not realised an earlier item he had written was a joke. On the basis of that I concluded I was going to like Twain’s writing provided it was written when he was in a rotten mood, but other more amiable pieces had their way with me in what turned out to be an occasional five-star read.
Twain and I are well separated both in space and in time, so some of the humour based upon culture left me cold. That culture gap was made doubly-clear with the gaff concerning Knights of my Realm being called ‘Sir Smith’ and the like instead of ‘Sir John’ etc. Occasional essays that may have been better handled also popped up, good ideas gone wrong I suspect with the hurry of a too-urgent deadline. For the most part, though, this was a nice work to dip into and back out of again, which I thus ruined by reading in a couple of greedy gulps. Don’t do it, people, bad for the digestion.
Twain’s humour tends to be topical – or was at the time – though he’s not averse to spinning out of some topical nugget some whimsical train of thought which leaves reality’s track in search of new lands. Certainly here, though, his best work is when someone had annoyed the hell out of him. If only his editor had had the professionalism to employ someone to prod him with a sharp stick from time to time, I suspect this would have been a five-star collection.
Sadly that is an opportunity now lost to history.