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Peter Salwen <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Sat, 5 Dec 2009 17:40:03 -0800
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Hi, Mark.  For what it's worth, here's a paraphrase of what I generally tell
the guests on my "Mark Twain's New York" tour when we pause at Henry James's
birthplace on Washington Place . . .

*   *   *
Roy Blount has said that Mark Twain and Henry James "were the great heads
and tails of American fiction in the late nineteenth century -- and neither
intended to settle for being tails."

James, whose own work was famously -- some would say impenetrably --
cerebral, considered Twain the writer to be essentially a buffoon and
vulgarian, who appealed only to "rudimentary minds." Of course, he also said
that Winslow Homer's paintings were "undistinguished" and "almost
barbarously simple."

For his part Twain conceded that James was "a big literary fish" but he put
him among those writers who "analyze the guts" out of their characters. "I
can't stand George Eliot and Hawthorne and those people; I see what they are
at a hundred years before they get to it and they just tire me to death. And
as for 'The Bostonians,'  I would rather be damned to John Bunyan's heaven
[i.e., a literal eternity of boredom] than read that."

Twain also supposedly said of James's writing, "Once you have put one of his
books down, you simply can't pick it up again."  It's a nice line, but it's
probably not by Twain -- it doesn't really sound like him.

The two writers had no problems on a personal level though, and both were
close friends of William Dean Howells, who reviewed and championed both of
them. In 1879 James met "our friend Clemens" in London and reported, "He
seemed to me a most excellent pleasant fellow -- & what they call here very
'quaint.'"  Nearly thirty years later, in 1907, he spent an evening in
Twain's company and wrote, "Poor man, only good for monologue in his old age
[Twain was 71, James was 64] or for dialogue at best, but he's a dear little
genius all the same."

*   *   *

Unfortunately I have no references handy, but the sources should be
Googleable if I haven't garbled them too badly.

Pete Salwen