"Down On Flummery"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Samuel Langhorne Clemens, more familiarly known to readers as Mark Twain, had many gifts; one of the greatest was his ability to depict character and human feeling through the words of people he created. Another was his mastery of dialect. Combining these with his insight into human nature, he filled his tales with persons who are natural and entirely believable; they seem alive, and we feel that we not only know them, but know them well. All are individuals. Much of Twain's humor derives from the same aspects of his deep understanding: his characters express emotions which are universal, but do so in picturesque and at times outlandish terms. We understand the character, like him, and sympathize with him; at the same time, the humor of the scene is inescapable. Tragedy is sometimes masked with laughter to make it bearable. A brief sketch, "The Undertaker's Chat," provides, a good example. The old undertaker is engaged in readying the body of a friend for burial. He has known and admired this man for many years, and in his conversation reveals deep affection for him. We learn that the dead man was a humble person who deplored ostentation and that he was loved by all. His relatives all wanted to buy him a ruinously expensive coffin, but he refused; he also declined a silver nameplate, observing that "he judged that wher' he was going to a body would find it considerable better to attract attention by a picturesque moral character than a natty burial case with a swell door-plate on it." In his eulogy the undertaker endeavors to camouflage his grief with far-fetched expressions and thereby renders it even more obvious; his apparent irreverence is strangely touching:

"Splendid man, he was. I'd druther do for a corpse like that 'n any I've tackled in seven year. There's some satisfaction in buryin' a man like that. You feel that what you're doing is appreciated. . . .
"Well, the relations they wanted a big funeral, but corpse said he was down on flummery–didn't want any procession–fill the hearse full of mourners, and get out a stern line and tow him behind. He was the most down on style of any remains I ever struck. A beautiful simple-minded creature–it was what he was, you can depend on that. He was just set on having things the way he wanted them, and he took a solid comfort in laying his little plans. He had me measure him and take a whole raft of directions; then he had the minister stand up behind a long box with a table-cloth over it, to represent the coffin, and read his funeral sermon, saying 'Angcore, angcore!' at the good places, and making him scratch out every bit of brag about him, and all the hifalutin; and then he made them trot out the choir so's he could help them pick out the tunes for the occasion, and he got them to sing 'Pop Goes the Weasel,' because he'd always liked that tune when he was down-hearted, and solemn music made him sad; and when they sung that with tears in their eyes (because they all loved him), and his relations grieving around, he just laid there as happy as a bug, and trying to beat time and showing all over how much he enjoyed it; and presently he got worked up and excited, and tried to join in, for, mind you, he was pretty proud of his abilities in the singing line; but the first time he opened his mouth and was just going to spread himself his breath took a walk."