Sketches New And Old "One-horse Town"

Mark Twain

"One-horse Town"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: This brief sketch recounts the tribute paid by an undertaker in a small country village, in a day when the wealth and stature of a community could be measured by its population of horses, to a departed citizen loved by all. It soon becomes evident that the deceased was a plain man, humble and unpretentious, happy by disposition, and blessed with a sense of humor. The language used by the undertaker is that picturesque frontier dialect which Twain employed so effectively, and the recital exhibits his rare ability to describe touching incidents in humorous terms without making them less touching. The departed citizen had known his end was near. His friends had wanted him to have a lavish coffin with a silver plate on the lid; but the dying man refused such ostentation, observing that "wher' he was going to a body would find it considerable better to attract attention by a picturesque moral character." When his relatives planned a big funeral, he "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." The undertaker, astounded and at the same time filled with admiration for anyone "so down on style," continues his recital:

". . . 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 tablecloth 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 downhearted, 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.
"I never see a man snuffed out so sudden. Ah, it was a great loss–a powerful loss to this poor little one-horse town. . . ."