Cedars of Lebanon: Mark Twain and the British Ladies
BETWEEN 1884 and his death twenty years later, Theodor Herzl wrote many light, non- political pieces of literary criticism, travelogue, and fiction or semi-fiction, of the genre known as “feuilleton.” Collecting about seventy of these in a two-volume set (published in Berlin in 1903), Herzl gave it the simple title Feuilletons. This piece, written in 1894, is taken from the second volume, which contains several essays penned during Herzl’s sojourn in Paris as the correspondent of the Neue Freie Presse.
Herzl never visited the United States, but was interested in American life and knew something about American literature, having read Washington Irving, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Edward Bellamy, and Mark Twain. In his Jugendtagebuch there is an entry dated February 3, 1882, wherein the twenty-one-year-old student of jurisprudence discusses a collection of Mark Twain’s short stories. Herzl noted that the German translation was inadequate, and he characterized the volume as representative of “English [!] humor, grotesque at times, and always dry.” Yet he regarded Mark Twain as a forceful critic of local conditions.
Twelve years later Herzl had a chance to see Mark Twain (then close to sixty) at the British embassy in Paris where the humorist gave a reading to a select group. The excerpt printed below is Herzl’s reaction to the actual reading, at which he was present. In the original essay, there is a second half, a humorous “addendum” in which he spoofs the character of an American newspaperman, a correspondent in Paris, whose public back home is waiting for his stuff to appear in the local paper, the Minneapolis Bluffs. Here Herzl- without firsthand experience-is forced to fall back on stereotypes, in contrast to his astute personal view of Mark Twain and his audience. The translation from the German original is mine.-ALFRED WERNER.
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