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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/364

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

Revolution nobody but Rousseau and Robespierre and Danton; in the national struggle for American independence nobody but Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin; in the vast movements for the unity of Italy and Germany nobody but Garibaldi, Mazzini, Bismarck, and Von Moltke. But in reality, as the present age now knows well, it is largely the movement that makes the men, not the men that make the movement; and this is true of ordinary epochs as well as of great upheavals, of the thinker and the writer as well as of the soldier, the statesman, and the enthusiast. Take as a very striking example in minor matters Mark Twain. To the English reader Mark Twain is a being more or less unique, or at best he is known as the chief among two or three popular competitors in the field of so-called American humor—Artemus Ward, Josh Billings, and Orpheus C. Kerr being practically his only considerable rivals in the European market. But whoever knows the daily talk and the daily newspaper of Western America knows that embryo Mark Twains grow in Illinois on every bush, and that the raw material of the "Innocents Abroad" resounds nightly, like the voice of the Derringer, through every saloon in Iowa and Montana. A large style of cheap and effective homicidal humor, based mainly on exaggeration and grotesque incongruities, flourishes everywhere on the border-lands of American civilization. The very infants lisp in quaint Western quips, the blushing maidens whisper a dialect which "pans out" rich in the peculiar wit of Poker Flat and the Silverado Squatters. Mark Twain represents but the exceptional embodiment of this extravagant ranching and mining spirit, sedulously cultivated and still further developed by the literary habits of a professional humorist.

In literature and in political life our modern principle of the supreme influence of the environment is now, indeed, universally admitted; it is only in science and in philosophy (where more than elsewhere it is emphatically true) that anybody of authority still doubts it. We all allow that in most matters it is the wave that makes the crest, and not the crest that makes the wave. The old school of critics saw in Shakespeare a dramatic phoenix, solitary of his kind, unequaled and unapproached around or about him. The new school sees in him the final flower and highest outcome of that marvelous outburst which gave us "Faustus" and "Tamburlaine," "Jane Shore" and "Yolpone," the "Duke of Milan" and the "Duchess of Malfi." Primus inter pares he was, no doubt, but inter pares only, not above "a vast dead level of mediocrity." Ford and Webster, Beaumont and Fletcher, Jonson and Massinger stood close beside the throne; Greene and Marlowe had prepared the way beforehand for Hamlet and Shylock and Richard III. The expansion of England in the Elizabethan age necessarily produced the new drama, which showed forth as in a mir-