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Maybe I'm being too pedantic for my own good, but here's the thing. There is in Mark Twain's short story titled Journalism in Tennessee a passage in which, if you take a good close look, the simple past and past perfect seem to be mixed up. Here's the passage:

At the end of the next three hours I had been through perils so awful that all peace of mind and all cheerfulness were gone from me. Gillespie had called and thrown me out of the window. Jones arrived promptly, and when I got ready to do the cowhiding he took the job off my hands. In an encounter with a stranger, not in the bill of fare, I had lost my scalp. Another stranger, by the name of Thompson, left me a mere wreck and ruin of chaotic rags.

And here's the (seeming) problem:

The entire story is related in the past tense. The first sentence of the passage is in past perfect, since events that took place earlier than the present chronological point of the story, are discussed, hence "I had been through perils ...". The second sentence is in keeping with the first one: past perfect, and so is the fourth one, but NOT the third one, nor the firth one (simple past tense is used in both).

How come?

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    Because having got the past-perfect tenor of the incident well established there was no need to go on repeating it monotonously. – WS2 Oct 17 '15 at 9:36
  • Perhaps not. But why then would you go back to past perfect AGAIN in the next sentence ("had lost my scalp") and then BACK to simple perfect in the following one ("left me a mere ...") – Ricky Oct 17 '15 at 9:53
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    It may give a linguist fits, but it's perfectly good English -- better than average for Twain, in fact. – Hot Licks Oct 17 '15 at 12:48
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    @HotLicks: No, you're wrong there. Linguists don't go on about "good English", because they realize there is no standard of "good English" beyond how competent English speakers speak English. What really makes linguists dyspeptic is people passing on this "good grammar" nonsense as "grammar advice" or "English teaching", and then having the nerve to blame us grammarians for it. Here's an example. – John Lawler Oct 17 '15 at 14:47
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    @Ricky: you can just use the past with "when", but I don't think it's grammatically any better than switching into the past at the beginning of the sentence. Stylistically, English writers avoid putting long stretches of prose in the past perfect. I don't think there's anything wrong with the way Twain does it, although he certainly could have made other reasonable choices for which verbs to put into past perfect. – Peter Shor Oct 17 '15 at 15:16
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Short Explanation

The use of alternating between past simple and past perfect is used to help create a sort of alternation between scenes, or flashbacks within one period of three hours. The scenes could be arranged like so:

  1. At the end of the next three hours I had been through perils so awful that all peace of mind and all cheerfulness were gone from me.
    1. Gillespie had called and thrown me out of the window. Jones arrived promptly, and when I got ready to do the cowhiding he took the job off my hands.
    2. In an encounter with a stranger, not in the bill of fare, I had lost my scalp. Another stranger, by the name of Thompson, left me a mere wreck and ruin of chaotic rags. And at last, at bay in the corner, and beset by an infuriated mob of editors, blacklegs, politicians, and desparadoes, who ravel and swore and flourished their weapons about my head till the air shimmered with glancing flashes of steel, I was in the act of resigning my berth on the paper when the chief arrived, and with him a rabble of charmed and enthusiastic friends. [...]

The last sentence I added to help explain the structure of these scenes. All of these sentences are in the same paragraph in the original passage. Points 2 and 3 are two scenes happening within the three hours referred to by point 1. The use of the past perfect is used to start a new scene.

Long Explanation

The past perfect is used to indicate that one action happened before another action in the past (the "past past"), as in a flashback. When in a flashback, many authors do not continue using the past perfect for the entire flashback, but instead resort to the past simple, because the past simple is easier to read. Also, continuing to use the past perfect could be confusing, because in some cases the writer might want to use a flashback within a flashback (the "past past past"). In that case, there would be no way to differentiate the flashback from the flashback within a flashback.

In the case of this passage, I believe Mark Twain is using a flashback within a flashback. Allow me to step through the passage and explain it.

At the end of the next three hours I had been through perils so awful that all peace of mind and all cheerfulness were gone from me.

This sentence is used to bring the reader into an extended flashback. The time in this flashback is currently "at the end of the next three hours." The time outside the flashback is some time after those three hours.

Gillespie had called and thrown me out of the window.

For those who haven't read the context around this passage, there are two possibilities. Either this sentence occurs right after the flashback previously mentioned, at the end of the the three hours. Otherwise, this sentence occurs within the previous flashback. The second choice is obviously correct when considering the context of the passage, which was not given in the OP's question. However, even without knowing the context, one can assume because of the type of language Mark Twain used — such as the phrase "perils so awful" (what perils?) — that he is going to describe the last three hours and what awful things happened.

Jones arrived promptly, and when I got ready to do the cowhiding he took the job off my hands.

This happens within that same flashback within a flashback. This is why past simple is used. No other scene is starting; this is exactly the same scene. Hence, why Mark Twain uses the word "promptly": There is no time gap here.

In an encounter with a stranger, not in the bill of fare, I had lost my scalp.

This jumps to another flashback, so it is either after the first flashback in the passage, or another flashback within a flashback. Since this seems to be further describing the perils of the three hours pointed to in the first sentence, this too must be a flashback within a flashback.

Another stranger, by the name of Thompson, left me a mere wreck and ruin of chaotic rags.

Again, this sentence is connected to the sentence before and is not starting a new flashback. This time, although the word "promptly" is not used, meaning that there might be a small time gap between these two sentences, we can still consider this the same "scene." First, Mark Twain references "[a]nother" stranger, clearly a connection to the prior sentence. Also, these two sentences both seem to emphasize the damage done to the narrator. For this reason, this sentence and the prior sentence can be thought of as one scene.

And at last, at bay in the corner, and beset by an infuriated mob of editors, blacklegs, politicians, and desparadoes, who ravel and swore and flourished their weapons about my head till the air shimmered with glancing flashes of steel, I was in the act of resigning my berth on the paper when the chief arrived, and with him a rabble of charmed and enthusiastic friends.

This sentence again is in the same scene as the prior two sentences, emphasizing the pain of the narrator at the beginning of the sentence, and transitioning to the event of the chief's arrival.

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