Lisle Lester on Her Travels

Mark Twain

San Francisco Dramatic Chronicle/October 30, 1865

Lisle Lester, who is probably the worst writer in the world, though a good-hearted woman and a woman who means well, notwithstanding the distressing productions of her pen, has been visiting the Insane Asylum and favors the Marysville Appeal with some of her experiences. She is touched by the spectacle of mothers whose minds are so darkened by the clouds of insanity that “even the sight of an old child fails to recall the sweet relationship.” “Old child” is a rather pleasing expression, but it has an odd sound, especially when it drops unexpectedly into the midst of a paragraph which is perfectly saturated with pathos — or bathos — which is the case in the present instance. She recounts the sad history of a German girl in the asylum, and flavors the fearful tale with some decidedly queer phrases — thus: “She, the betrothed, saw the heart of him she loved was with the younger sister, and, strange as it is for women, she gave him up, handed him to the sister with her blessing and good will, wrapt up her grief, shut down her hopes, and to be alone came to America.” Wouldn’t it have been more expressive to have said that “she shook him” and then wrapped up her grief, etc.? We cannot improve upon the steam-power of the phrase which informs us that she “shut down her hopes.” Of another patient, she says: “Wheat in Michigan, lands in Ohio, houses in California, fill up the crevices of her fancy.” Isn’t that rather crowding the “crevices?” Wouldn’t it be more roomy to say these houses and things fill up the cañons of her fancy? As to Lisle Lester’s grammar, we feel that we are speaking tamely when we say that it is powerful.


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