Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Essay: Enchantments and Enchanters." Mark Twain.

(An interpolated chapter from Life on the Mississippi.)

One-minute review: Beginning with an accurate description of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Twain switches to a diatribe against Sir Walter Scott whom Twain blames for the loss of Southern culture.


“Against the crimes of the French Revolution and of Bonaparte may be set the compensating benefactions: the Revolution broke the chains of the ancient rĂ©gime and of the Church, and made a nation of abject slaves a nation of freemen; and Bonaparte instituted the setting of merit above birth….”

“Sir Walter had so large a hand in making Southern character, as it existed before the War, that he is in great measure responsible for the War.”

“There is as much literary talent in the South, now, as ever there was, of course, but its work can gain but slight currency under present conditions: the authors write for the past not the present; they use obsolete forms and a dead language.”

“A curious exemplification of the power of a single book for good or harm is shown in the effects wrought by Don Quixote and those wrought by Ivanhoe. The first swept the world’s admiration for medieval chivalry silliness out of existence; and the other restored it. As far as our South is concerned, the good work done by Cervantes is pretty nearly a dead letter, so effectively has Scott’s pernicious work undermined it.”

Comment: For those of you who do not read books, there was a time when books helped to shape people’s ideas. RayS.

American Essays. Ed. Charles B. Shaw. A Pelican Mentor Book. New York: The New American Library. 1948.

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