Transcribed here is a pamphlet of Scandinavian press reviews, which Robert Watt first sent to Clemens in a letter of 14 May 1874; in January 1875 he sent a second copy (15 and 16 July 74 to Watt, n. 1; 26 Jan 75 to Watt, n. 2). The reviews (translated, according to Watt, by “an old scotchman”) are of Udvalgte skitser (1874), a collection of sketches that Watt translated into Danish. He took his selections from the editions of Mark Twain’s Sketches and Roughing It that Routledge published in London in 1872. He also included—inadvertently—at least one spurious sketch (“Soda-Water”) from John Camden Hotten’s 1871 pirated collection Screamers (SLC 1871, 1872 [MT01064], 1872 [MT01066], 1872 [MT01060]; see L5, 163–68, and ET&S1, 586–99). Despite its title, the pamphlet contains no Norwegian reviews; eleven are Danish, and one is Swedish. The reviewers refer to the following extracts from Roughing It (citations are to RI 1993): Buck Fanshaw’s funeral (308–17), the Virginia City nabobs (299–307), the miner’s propensity to drink and brawl and boast that he had “killed his man” (318–25), and the Sacramento valley gold-diggers (391–95). Also mentioned are the following sketches: “My Watch—An Instructive Page from a Little Tale,” “About Barbers,” “The Bad Little Boy,” “The Good Little Boy,” “Running for Governor,” and “Journalism in Tennessee.” The following transcription preserves verbatim all spelling errors and peculiarities of usage.
opinions of the press
DENMARK, SWEDEN AND NORWAY
the works of
translated into danish
l. a. jørgensen. publicher.
“Berlingske Tidende” (Copenhagen—Denmark.) Mark Twain is, like Bret Harte, a child of the Sierras, a genius from the far West, whose whole way of thought bears the impression of those marvellous scenes and no less characteristic social surroundings of those far off regions, beyond the ken of everyday civilized life. But while Bret Harte thinks and writes as a poet, Twain models his subject into the most grotesque forms, shaping it into satires on the things that be around him. Exagerations, caricatures may be, but still, resembling the originals too closely to be denied. He understands his countrymen, and we may depend upon it, knows how many a truth may be said in jest that, spoken in earnest, would be hunted back with hate and scorn.
“Nær og Fjærn” (Copenhagen—Denmark.) Mark Twain’s wit is of a thorough american breed; its chief vehicle is the gigantic grotesque exageration, familiar to us from so many a Yankee anecdote, from that of the man, who was so tall that he had to kneel down when he wanted to put his hand in his own pocket, to that of his contrast, who was so short that he had to mount a chair when he wanted to scratch his head. This sort of humor has an irresistible effect on every one endowed with the sense of humor, which is so far from being possessed by all, that there really exist human beings who are incapable of seeing any fun in Mark Twain, in spite of the masterly translation.—How masterly is not the translation of the sketch “Buck Fanshaw’s funeral”—which brings the author more home to our comprehension than he ever could be to us, seen through the haze of American slang and local allusions.
“Illustreret Tidende” (Copenhagen—Denmark.) In the chapter: “The Innocents at home” there is much original and, with all its simplicity, noble poetry. Such small sketches as that of the nabobs from Virginia City, driving in an omnibus in New York, or the gold-diggers in Sacramento valley, moved at the sight of a woman and child, so rare to them, are not more easily forgotten than the whole description of the raw but hardy miner-population, the most glittering host that ever destroyed the virgin solitudes of a land,—a host—nay hoards on hoards, revelling in gold and whisky and fighting and devilry, among whom no one is an influential and respected citizen who has not killed his man. For us these sketches possess the greatest poetical worth and the most lasting interest, but the journalist and humorist is also worthy of being known, and in the score of sketches the translator has selected from Mark Twains humorous works, there are not alone many interesting from the picture they give of a state of things obnoxious to the keen and irresistible satire of the author, but possessing in themselves great literary merit. Such small things as “My watch”, “My barber”, the stories of the good and the naughty boy, are not only written with genuine Yankee humor, but with wit that will be appreciated by people of all nations, and his attempt at being elected governor as well as his recollections as journalist are not only successful comic parodies, but also severe and cutting chastisements to corrupted social institutions. With respect to the translation, Mr. Robert Watt, having in bygone days himself been a witness and a partaker of such life, is especially competent to render as faithfully as language can, such scenes as this author depicts.
“Dagens Nyheder” (Copenhagen—Denmark). America’s first and greatest humorist presents himself for the first time to the Danish reader, and does so in such a way as to tempt us to make his more intimate acquaintance. Mark Twain is no fine, supercilious satirist, who in the most elegant style and with a becoming smile on his lips tells his contemporaries the truth; he is a thoroughbred son of the new world, bold and untrammeled like it, hiding not what he means and not gilding the pills he pitches down his countrymen’s throats. In clear straightforward words he says his meaning pitilessly laying bare the flaws in the social condition of his native land. But that straightforward bluntness, that unsparing pitilessness do not shock and jar, born onward as they are on so bright and fresh and healthful a stream of humor, that one is often fain to lay down the book and give way to a good honest fit of wholsome laughter. But when an author like Mark Twain is to find a reading public in a foreign land, his works must be translated into that country’s tongue by one who is familiar with the scenes and circumstances described, and in this as in every other respect bearing on the fulfilment of the task he has so gratefully undertaken, Mr. Robert Watt has proved himself to be most fully competent, for the translation is not only fluent and at the same time faithfully correct, but, when the spirit of the original demands, vigorously and lifefully true to feeling and to art. In illustration whereof we refer our readers to the sketch bearing the title of “Buck Fanshaws funeral”.
“Nyt Aftenblad” (Copenhagen—Denmark). Mark Twain’s works can not fail to win for themselves an extensive circle of readers; his freespoken humor healthful and vigorous satire, unwonted freshness together with the interesting subjects of which he treats have long since earned for him a name in other countries. In the section of his works called “The Innoncents at home” he depicts his own life in Nevada, ten years ago and those sketches can in humor and interest compete with the very best that has yet reached us from those far off regions.
“Morgenbladet” (Copenhagen—Denmark). Mark Twain is no learned man; for some years ago he was a printers-apprentice, then pilot on board a steamer and afterwards newspaper-editor away in the far west of Nevada, and that in “the flush times” of Nevada. There he dwelt and had his living among gold-diggers, and gamblers and ruffians and honest men—adventurers of all shades and kinds. But the half-civilized, wholly wild life around him was no offence in his nostrils—no theme to him of selfrightious sermonisings, but simply the natural result of human nature’s unrestricted and more vigorous growth in those wild regions, where the golden rule was to trust to ones self “and settle the hash” of anyone who came athwart you. With genial good humour he banteringly introduces us to many an individual of that common-wealth whose repute of having “killed his man” was a surer claim to distinction than is among us any title in our official “List of Rank” from that of “Assessor of the Bedchamber” to that of “Privy counsellor of state”.—Yet all the while he lets us see that generous feelings are not utterly excluded from the rough breasts of the rude fellows, who in Nevada could cover their man with cool unflinching aim.—No less humouristic, but more keen and biting is Mark Twain when the scene shifts to the eastern civilized states—a sharp eye and a pitiless pen has he for the flaws in their social institutions and the shams of their public life. Whatever scenes he describes, our author possesses the rare and masterly advantage of being true to himself, and, if he lays it too heavy on now and then, why it is but an exageration not out of keeping with the scene.
We ought indeed to be grateful to the talented and most able translator for having transplanted to our literary soil a work so replete with hearty, generous, healthful life and feelings as Mark Twain’s writings.—How invigorating are they amid the weak-tea wishy-washy outpourings the goodnatured reading-public spoil their literary digestion with in the course of the year.
“Næstved Avis” (Zeeland—Denmark). Mark Twain is a thoroughbred representative of the stalwart Yankee humor, which, while we pigmy Europeans touch up with a sarcasm, lashes with scorpions, and the present selection will, no doubt afford the reader a satisfactory conception of the works of the great American humorist.
“Aarhus Amtstidende” (Jutland—Denmark). The present state of our home-literature is most favorable for the transplanting of such works to our national soil as have already earned for themselves a name abroad. A successful attempt in this direction is again presented us in Mr. Robert Watt’s translation, published by Mr. L. A. Jórgensen, of the American humorist, Mark Twain’s selected sketches; the more deservedly successful as few or none of us have any actual knowledge of the literary life that is moving in the mighty nation byond the ocean. Mark Twain, whose real name is Samuel L. Clemens, is among that great nation’s most popular authors, and not being forty years of age, it may be inferred that the sketches of life presented to us by his pen, are actually of our own day.—Like Bret Harte, another american author whose works Mr. Watt has also translated, Mark Twain is essentially a fuielletonist, that is to say, his sketches are well adopted both from their form and their conciseness to afford entertainment and variety in the columns of a newspaper, and it is not improbable that such has in reality been the channel of their introduction to the world of letters.
“Holbækposten” (Zeeland—Denmark). Mr. L. A. Jógensen of Copenhagen has lately published a translation by Robert Watt of a collection of Mark Twain’s selected sketches. We hope that this book will be hailed with the same pleasure as greeted the advent of Bret Harte, whose works in Danish appeared in the course of the preceding year.—Mark Twain’s name is, according to the translator, as well known as Bret Harte’s, they are both admirable types of that peculiar race, so rich in character, that lives byond the mighty keel of the American continent, and from reading both their works one obtains a clear insight into what is going on in the far West. While Bret Harte moves us to solemn thought, Mark Twain wins us wether we will or ne, to laugh with his sparkling humor and funny conceits; as when he tells us that on one of his journeys he drank such a draught of soda-water that he swelled to such a bulk that the only article of his whole dress he could make use of next day was his umbrella.—We cannot but recommend this amusing and witty book, which deserves as well for its author’s as its translator’s sake, to be widely circulated; well assured that no one will regret purchasing it, as soon as he has read one of the 28 sketches it contains.
“Thisted Avis” (Jutland.—Denmark). Mark Twain’s selected Works, translated by Robert Watt—published by L. A. Jörgensen, Copenhagen.
We have previously introduced our readers to Bret Harte, the poet from the far West, and will this day introduce an other American author, who, like the former, is ushered into the Danish reading public by his incomparable translator Robert Watt. His sketches are replete with wit and humor, and in spite of their exageration, one can not forbear laughing heartily at the fatalities, which, for example, an american newspaper writer exposes himself to by working at his calling in one of those far away districts where folks are prone to take justice into their own hands. But it must be acknowledged that the most notorious newspaper writers among us are distanced out of sight in the art of vituperation by those of the new world, to judge from Twain’s select specimens of “The spirit of the Tennessee press”, where, for example, a journal speaks of a neighbouring town as ‘a one-horse town with two gin mills and a blacksmith’s shop in it, and that mustard-plaster of a newspaper that calls itself: the “Daily Hurra”, whose editor, “that crawling insect Buckner, brays with this customary imbecility and is imagining he is talking sense”—while elsewhere mention is made of “that besotted blackguard of the Mud springs “Morning howl” and finally the publishers of the half-weekly “Earth-quake” are exhorted to retract a certain piece of intelligence, “if they want to save their abandoned reptile carcasses from the cowhiding they so richly deserved”.
“Göteborgposten” (Sweden). It is some time ago since we had the pleasure of introducing those of our readers who were not previously acquainted with him, to Bret Harte—the American Dickens, whose name has, in an astonishing short time, become familiar to the world. We will this day present a no less famous Yankee—an american Thackeray—a satirist who wields his whip without respect of persons; his pseudonymous name: Mark Twain, his real name Samuel L. Clemens. Like Bret Harte, Mark Twain is a boy from the “Far West” and, as the former is, even so is he a true type of the race of our fellow-men, who live and move and have their being beyond the mighty backbone of the American continent; but would we fully appreciate the peculiarities of the one, we must make ourselves familiar with the individualities of the other. We quote Robert Watt’s own words in the preface with which he introduces his matchless Danish translation to his Scandinavian readers. Without disparagement to the Swedish translation, published in Upsala by Mr. W. Schultz, we beg to remark that it is to Mr. Robert Watt’s masterly translation we owe our acquaintance with the author we now so cordially recommend to our readers.
“Nyborg Avis” (Fyen—Denmark). While but few original works worthy of notice have appeared in Denmark in the later years, Danish literature has been enriched with a multitude of translations of modern foreign authors. And it is most natural that in an age, when the different nations are, as it were, drawn nearer to each other by quickness and ease of communication, it is most natural we say that more interest is awakened for the literature and politics of other lands than before.—We noticed the other day the Russian poet Turgénjew’s works; we will today draw our readers’ attention to two American authors, who have, already for several years enjoyed a great and deservedly famous name in their native country beyond the great ocean and who within the latest years have become well known in Europe.
Bret Harte and Mark Twain both are at home in the far West, and both most frequently lead their readers to those half-civilized scenes, where the tough and vigorous miners in the gold-yielding glens, the far hidden creeks and the primitive settlements in the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains afford rich and varied subjects for both of them.—But while Bret Harte’s description full of loveliness and feelings awakens a sense of solemnity if not of sadness, Mark Twain steps lightly along by our side, joking and quizzing by the way us and himself and all the world, with that racy American wit that not unfrequently ebullates in exageration. His sketches are not, because so rich with frolicking humor, devoid of fruits, wholesome and full of nutriment, and it is even under the sheltering cover of his broad-leafed healthful fun, that the most salubrious antidote to the worst social poisons in the American “institutions” are to be found. It is to the masterly translation of Bret Harte’s and Mark Twain’s works by Mr. Robert Watt we owe our acquaintance with these authors. It is by no means an easy task Mr. Watt has undertaken; to render in our modest mother-tongue the many strange slang-words so familiar to the gold-diggers’ lips.—But Mr. Watt has visited those scenes himself, and is otherwise qualified before all others to do justice to the originalities of American genious.