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THE eighteenth century, the pleasant period of highwaymen and catch-polls and Bow Street runners that romances batten on, is the Paradise of those writers who deal in the inexplicably appealing figure of the complete rogue. Defoe was the first to greatly plead the case of the unregenerate; there have been many since who fall back not on manner or significance but on the devil-may-care, romantic interest that lies in a man without ordinary morals who succeeds in living by his wits.
There have been, however--perhaps there still are--other times and places when Defoe would have felt very much at home. The old West now gone, the West of the Mississippi with its great side-wheelers and niggers and roustabouts and plenitude of suckers has produced its own school of chroniclers. By the works of its sons do we know it. And faro and monte are not unknown mysteries even in the modern and effete east; we have met the southern planter and the river boat gambler before, and still do we, their unworthy descendants, endeavor to fill on kings or bluff a bobtailed flush.
And so it seems a pity that this book, with a subject so rich, and fragrant, po- tentially as full of life and color as the Mississippi in the old days, should be dull. For a gambler's anecdotes to be flat it is unforgiveable. Every now and then some life breaks through the crust of monotonous, disorganized narative--it is impossible to pass soberly by the time when the boiler burst and killed fourteen preachers, while the only people saved on the boat were the abandoned souls who were playing roulette in the barber shop under Mr. Devol's chaperonage. But one seldom meets anything else to match this. It is a crime against the gods of high romance for so matchless a string of yarns to be so drably treated
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