Mark Twain, A Biography, 1835-1866
Albert Bigelow Paine
Part 5 out of 5
When Joe went away, he left Sam in editorial charge of the paper.
That was a dangerous thing to do. Nobody could ever tell what Sam
was going to write. Something he said stirred up Mr. Laird, of the
Chronicle, who wrote a reply of a very severe kind. He said some
things that we told Mark could only be wiped out with blood. Those
were the days when almost every man in Virginia City had fought with
pistols either impromptu or premeditated duels. I had been in
several, but then mine didn't count. Most of them were of the
impromptu kind. Mark hadn't had any yet, and we thought it about
time that his baptism took place.
He was not eager for it; he was averse to violence, but we finally
prevailed upon him to send Laird a challenge, and when Laird did not
send a reply at once we insisted on Mark sending him another
challenge, by which time he had made himself believe that he really
wanted to fight, as much as we wanted him to do. Laird concluded to
fight, at last. I helped Mark get up some of the letters, and a man
who would not fight after such letters did not belong in Virginia
City--in those days.
Laird's acceptance of Mark's challenge came along about midnight, I
think, after the papers had gone to press. The meeting was to take
place next morning at sunrise.
Of course I was selected as Mark's second, and at daybreak I had him
up and out for some lessons in pistol practice before meeting Laird.
I didn't have to wake him. He had not been asleep. We had been
talking since midnight over the duel that was coming. I had been
telling him of the different duels in which I had taken part, either
as principal or second, and how many men I had helped to kill and
bury, and how it was a good plan to make a will, even if one had not
much to leave. It always looked well, I told him, and seemed to be
a proper thing to do before going into a duel. So Mark made a will
with a sort of gloomy satisfaction, and as soon as it was light
enough to see, we went out to a little ravine near the meeting-
place, and I set up a board for him to shoot at. He would step out,
raise that big pistol, and when I would count three he would shut
his eyes and pull the trigger. Of course he didn't hit anything; he
did not come anywhere near hitting anything. Just then we heard
somebody shooting over in the next ravine. Sam said:
"What's that, Steve?"
"Why," I said, "that's Laud. His seconds are practising him over
It didn't make my principal any more cheerful to hear that pistol go
off every few seconds over there. Just then I saw a little mud-hen
light on some sage-brush about thirty yards away.
"Mark," I said, "let me have that pistol. I'll show you how to
He handed it to me, and I let go at the bird and shot its head off,
clean. About that time Laird and his second came over the ridge to
meet us. I saw them coming and handed Mark back the pistol. We
were looking at the bird when they came up.
"Who did that?" asked Laird's second.
"Sam," I said.
"How far off was it?"
"Oh, about thirty yards."
"Can he do it again?"
"Of course," I said; "every time. He could do it twice that far."
Laud's second turned to his principal.
"Laird," he said, "you don't want to fight that man. It's just like
suicide. You'd better settle this thing, now."
So there was a settlement. Laird took back all he had said; Mark
said he really had nothing against Laird--the discussion had been
purely journalistic and did not need to be settled in blood. He
said that both he and Laird were probably the victims of their
friends. I remember one of the things Laird said when his second
told him he had better not fight.
"Fight! H--l, no! I am not going to be murdered by that d--d
Sam had sent another challenge to a man named Cutler, who had been
somehow mixed up with the muss and had written Sam an insulting
letter; but Cutler was out of town at the time, and before he got
back we had received word from Jerry Driscoll, foreman of the Grand
jury, that the law just passed, making a duel a penitentiary offense
for both principal and second, was to be strictly enforced, and
unless we got out of town in a limited number of hours we would be
the first examples to test the new law.
We concluded to go, and when the stage left next morning for San
Francisco we were on the outside seat. Joe Goodman had returned by this
time and agreed to accompany us as far as Henness Pass. We were all in
good spirits and glad we were alive, so Joe did not stop when he got to
Henness Pass, but kept on. Now and then he would say, "Well, I had
better be going back pretty soon," but he didn't go, and in the end he
did not go back at all, but went with us clear to San Francisco, and we
had a royal good time all the way. I never knew any series of duels to
close so happily.
So ended Mark Twain's career on the Comstock. He had come to it a weary
pilgrim, discouraged and unknown; he was leaving it with a new name and
fame--elate, triumphant, even if a fugitive.
GETTING SETTLED IN SAN FRANCISCO
This was near the end of May, 1864. The intention of both Gillis and
Clemens was to return to the States; but once in San Francisco both
presently accepted places, Clemens as reporter and Gillis as compositor,
on the 'Morning Call'.
From 'Roughing It' the reader gathers that Mark Twain now entered into a
life of butterfly idleness on the strength of prospective riches to be
derived from the "half a trunkful of mining stocks," and that presently,
when the mining bubble exploded, he was a pauper. But a good many
liberties have been taken with the history of this period. Undoubtedly
he expected opulent returns from his mining stocks, and was disappointed,
particularly in an investment in Hale and Norcross shares, held too long
for the large profit which could have been made by selling at the proper
The fact is, he spent not more than a few days--a fortnight at most--in
"butterfly idleness," at the Lick House before he was hard at work on the
'Call', living modestly with Steve Gillis in the quietest place they
could find, never quiet enough, but as far as possible from dogs and cats
and chickens and pianos, which seemed determined to make the mornings
hideous, when a weary night reporter and compositor wanted to rest. They
went out socially, on occasion, arrayed in considerable elegance; but
their recreations were more likely to consist of private midnight orgies,
after the paper had gone to press--mild dissipations in whatever they
could find to eat at that hour, with a few glasses of beer, and perhaps a
game of billiards or pool in some all-night resort. A printer by the
name of Ward--"Little Ward,"--[L. P. Ward; well known as an athlete in
San Francisco. He lost his mind and fatally shot himself in 1903.]--
they called him--often went with them for these refreshments. Ward and
Gillis were both bantam game-cocks, and sometimes would stir up trouble
for the very joy of combat. Clemens never cared for that sort of thing
and discouraged it, but Ward and Gillis were for war. "They never
assisted each other. If one had offered to assist the other against some
overgrown person, it would have been an affront, and a battle would have
followed between that pair of little friends."--[S. L. C., 1906.]--
Steve Gillis in particular, was fond of incidental encounters, a
characteristic which would prove an important factor somewhat later in
shaping Mark Twain's career. Of course, the more strenuous nights were
not frequent. Their home-going was usually tame enough and they were
glad enough to get there.
Clemens, however, was never quite ready for sleep. Then, as ever, he
would prop himself up in bed, light his pipe, and lose himself in English
or French history until sleep conquered. His room-mate did not approve
of this habit; it interfered with his own rest, and with his fiendish
tendency to mischief he found reprisal in his own fashion. Knowing his
companion's highly organized nervous system he devised means of torture
which would induce him to put out the light. Once he tied a nail to a
string; an arrangement which he kept on the floor behind the bed.
Pretending to be asleep, he would hold the end of the string, and lift it
gently up and down, making a slight ticking sound on the floor, maddening
to a nervous man. Clemens would listen a moment and say:
"What in the nation is that noise"
Gillis's pretended sleep and the ticking would continue.
Clemens would sit up in bed, fling aside his book, and swear violently.
"Steve, what is that d--d noise?" he would say.
Steve would pretend to rouse sleepily.
"What's the matter, Sam? What noise? Oh, I guess that is one of those
death-ticks; they don't like the light. Maybe it will stop in a minute."
It usually did stop about that time, and the reading would be apt to
continue. But no sooner was there stillness than it began again--tick,
tick, tick. With a wild explosion of blasphemy, the book would go across
the floor and the light would disappear. Sometimes, when he couldn't
sleep, he would dress and walk out in the street for an hour, while the
cruel Steve slept like the criminal that he was.
At last, one night, he overdid the thing and was caught. His tortured
room-mate at first reviled him, then threatened to kill him, finally put
him to shame. It was curious, but they always loved each other, those
two; there was never anything resembling an estrangement, and to his last
days Mark Twain never could speak of Steve Gillis without tenderness.
They moved a great many times in San Francisco. Their most satisfactory
residence was on a bluff on California Street. Their windows looked down
on a lot of Chinese houses--"tin-can houses," they were called--small
wooden shanties covered with beaten-out cans. Steve and Mark would look
down on these houses, waiting until all the Chinamen were inside; then
one of them would grab an empty beer-bottle, throw it down on those tin
can roofs, and dodge behind the blinds. The Chinamen would swarm out and
look up at the row of houses on the edge of the bluff, shake their fists,
and pour out Chinese vituperation. By and by, when they had retired and
everything was quiet again, their tormentors would throw another bottle.
This was their Sunday amusement.
At a place on Minna Street they lived with a private family. At first
Clemens was delighted.
"Just look at it, Steve," he said. "What a nice, quiet place. Not a
thing to disturb us."
But next morning a dog began to howl. Gillis woke this time, to find his
room-mate standing in the door that opened out into a back garden,
holding a big revolver, his hand shaking with cold and excitement.
"Came here, Steve," he said. "Come here and kill him. I'm so chilled
through I can't get a bead on him."
"Sam," said Steve, "don't shoot him. Just swear at him. You can easily
kill him at that range with your profanity."
Steve Gillis declares that Mark Twain then let go such a scorching,
singeing blast that the brute's owner sold him next day for a Mexican
We gather that they moved, on an average, about once a month. A home
letter of September 25, 1864, says:
We have been here only four months, yet we have changed our lodging
five times. We are very comfortably fixed where we are now and have
no fault to find with the rooms or the people. We are the only
lodgers-in a well-to-do private family . . . . But I need change
and must move again.
This was the Minna Street place--the place of the dog. In the same
letter he mentions having made a new arrangement with the Call, by which
he is to receive twenty-five dollars a week, with no more night-work; he
says further that he has closed with the Californian for weekly articles
at twelve dollars each.
Mark Twain's position on the 'Call' was uncongenial from the start. San
Francisco was a larger city than Virginia; the work there was necessarily
more impersonal, more a routine of news-gathering and drudgery. He once
set down his own memories of it:
At nine in the morning I had to be at the police court for an hour
and make a brief history of the squabbles of the night before. They
were usually between Irishmen and Irishmen, and Chinamen and
Chinamen, with now and then a squabble between the two races, for a
During the rest of the day we raked the town from end to end,
gathering such material as we might, wherewith to fill our required
columns; and if there were no fires to report, we started some. At
night we visited the six theaters, one after the other, seven nights
in the week. We remained in each of those places five minutes, got
the merest passing glimpse of play and opera, and with that for a
text we "wrote up" those plays and operas, as the phrase goes,
torturing our souls every night in the effort to find something to
say about those performances which we had not said a couple of
hundred times before.
It was fearful drudgery-soulless drudgery--and almost destitute of
interest. It was an awful slavery for a lazy man.
On the Enterprise he had been free, with a liberty that amounted to
license. He could write what he wished, and was personally responsible
to the readers. On the Call he was simply a part of a news-machine;
restricted by a policy, the whole a part of a still greater machine--
politics. Once he saw some butchers set their dogs on an unoffending
Chinaman, a policeman looking on with amused interest. He wrote an
indignant article criticizing the city government and raking the police.
In Virginia City this would have been a welcome delight; in San Francisco
it did not appear.
At another time he found a policeman asleep on his beat. Going to a
near-by vegetable stall he borrowed a large cabbage-leaf, came back and
stood over the sleeper, gently fanning him. It would be wasted effort to
make an item of this incident; but he could publish it in his own
fashion. He stood there fanning the sleeping official until a large
crowd collected. When he thought it was large enough he went away. Next
day the joke was all over the city.
Only one of the several severe articles he wrote criticizing officials
and institutions seems to have appeared--an attack on an undertaker whose
establishment formed a branch of the coroner's office. The management of
this place one day refused information to a Call reporter, and the next
morning its proprietor was terrified by a scathing denunciation of his
firm. It began, "Those body-snatchers" and continued through half a
column of such scorching strictures as only Mark Twain could devise. The
Call's policy of suppression evidently did not include criticisms of
Such liberty, however, was too rare for Mark Twain, and he lost interest.
He confessed afterward that he became indifferent and lazy, and that
George E. Barnes, one of the publishers of the Call, at last allowed him
an assistant. He selected from the counting-room a big, hulking youth by
the name of McGlooral, with the acquired prefix of "Smiggy." Clemens had
taken a fancy to Smiggy McGlooral--on account of his name and size
perhaps--and Smiggy, devoted to his patron, worked like a slave gathering
news nights--daytimes, too, if necessary--all of which was demoralizing
to a man who had small appetite for his place anyway. It was only a
question of time when Smiggy alone would be sufficient for the job.
There were other and pleasanter things in San Francisco. The personal
and literary associations were worth while. At his right hand in the
Call office sat Frank Soule--a gentle spirit--a graceful versifier who
believed himself a poet. Mark Twain deferred to Frank Soule in those
days. He thought his verses exquisite in their workmanship; a word of
praise from Soule gave him happiness. In a luxurious office up-stairs
was another congenial spirit--a gifted, handsome fellow of twenty-four,
who was secretary of the Mint, and who presently became editor of a new
literary weekly, the Californian, which Charles Henry Webb had founded.
This young man's name was Francis Bret Harte, originally from Albany,
later a miner and school-teacher on the Stanislaus, still later a
compositor, finally a contributor, on the Golden Era. His fame scarcely
reached beyond San Francisco as yet; but among the little coterie of
writing folk that clustered about the Era office his rank was high. Mark
Twain fraternized with Bret Harte and the Era group generally. He felt
that he had reached the land--or at least the borderland--of Bohemia,
that Ultima Thule of every young literary dream.
San Francisco did, in fact, have a very definite literary atmosphere and
a literature of its own. Its coterie of writers had drifted from here
and there, but they had merged themselves into a California body-poetic,
quite as individual as that of Cambridge, even if less famous, less
fortunate in emoluments than the Boston group. Joseph E. Lawrence,
familiarly known as "Joe" Lawrence, was editor of the Golden Era,--[The
Golden Era, California's first literary publication, was founded by
Rollin M. Daggett and J. McDonough Foard in 1852.]--and his kindness
and hospitality were accounted sufficient rewards even when his pecuniary
acknowledgments were modest enough. He had a handsome office, and the
literati, local and visiting, used to gather there. Names that would be
well known later were included in that little band. Joaquin Miller
recalls from an old diary, kept by him then, having seen Adah Isaacs
Menken, Prentice Mulford, Bret Harte, Charles Warren Stoddard, Fitzhugh
Ludlow, Mark Twain, Orpheus C. Kerr, Artemus Ward, Gilbert Densmore,
W. S. Kendall, and Mrs. Hitchcock assembled there at one time. The Era
office would seem to have been a sort of Mount Olympus, or Parnassus,
perhaps; for these were mainly poets, who had scarcely yet attained to
the dignity of gods. Miller was hardly more than a youth then, and this
grand assemblage impressed him, as did the imposing appointments of the
The Era rooms were elegant--[he says]--,the most grandly carpeted
and most gorgeously furnished that I have ever seen. Even now in my
memory they seem to have been simply palatial. I have seen the
world well since then--all of its splendors worth seeing--yet those
carpeted parlors, with Joe Lawrence and his brilliant satellites,
outshine all things else, as I turn to look back.
More than any other city west of the Alleghanies, San Francisco has
always been a literary center; and certainly that was a remarkable group
to be out there under the sunset, dropped down there behind the Sierras,
which the transcontinental railway would not climb yet, for several
years. They were a happy-hearted, aspiring lot, and they got as much as
five dollars sometimes for an Era article, and were as proud of it as if
it had been a great deal more. They felt that they were creating
literature, as they were, in fact; a new school of American letters
Mark Twain and Bret Harte were distinctive features of this group. They
were already recognized by their associates as belonging in a class by
themselves, though as yet neither had done any of the work for which he
would be remembered later. They were a good deal together, and it was
when Harte was made editor of the Californian that Mark Twain was put on
the weekly staff at the then unexampled twelve-dollar rate. The
Californian made larger pretensions than the Era, and perhaps had a
heavier financial backing. With Mark Twain on the staff and Bret Harte
in the chair, himself a frequent contributor, it easily ranked as first
of San Francisco periodicals. A number of the sketches collected by Webb
later, in Mark Twain's first little volume, the Celebrated Jumping Frog,
Etc., appeared in the Era or Californian in 1864 and 1865. They were
smart, bright, direct, not always refined, but probably the best humor of
the day. Some of them are still preserved in this volume of sketches.
They are interesting in what they promise, rather than in what they
present, though some of them are still delightful enough. "The Killing
of Julius Caesar Localized" is an excellent forerunner of his burlesque
report of a gladiatorial combat in The Innocents Abroad. The Answers to
Correspondents, with his vigorous admonition of the statistical moralist,
could hardly have been better done at any later period. The Jumping Frog
itself was not originally of this harvest. It has a history of its own,
as we shall see a little further along.
The reportorial arrangement was of brief duration. Even the great San
Francisco earthquake of that day did not awaken in Mark Twain any
permanent enthusiasm for the drudgery of the 'Call'. He had lost
interest, and when Mark Twain lost interest in a subject or an
undertaking that subject or that undertaking were better dead, so far as
he was concerned. His conclusion of service with the Call was certain,
and he wondered daily why it was delayed so long. The connection had
become equally unsatisfactory to proprietor and employee. They had a
heart-to-heart talk presently, with the result that Mark Twain was free.
He used to claim, in after-years, with his usual tendency to confess the
worst of himself, that he was discharged, and the incident has been
variously told. George Barnes himself has declared that Clemens resigned
with great willingness. It is very likely that the paragraph at the end
of Chapter LVIII in 'Roughing It' presents the situation with fair
accuracy, though, as always, the author makes it as unpleasant for
himself as possible:
"At last one of the proprietors took me aside, with a charity I still
remember with considerable respect, and gave me an opportunity to resign
my berth, and so save myself the disgrace of a dismissal."
As an extreme contrast with the supposititious "butterfly idleness" of
his beginning in San Francisco, and for no other discoverable reason, he
doubtless thought it necessary, in the next chapter of that book, to
depict himself as having reached the depths of hard luck, debt, and
"I became an adept at slinking," he says. "I slunk from back street to
back street.... I slunk to my bed. I had pawned everything but the
clothes I had on."
This is pure fiction. That he occasionally found himself short of funds
is likely enough--a literary life invites that sort of thing--but that he
ever clung to a single "silver ten-cent piece," as he tells us, and
became the familiar of mendicancy, was a condition supplied altogether by
his later imagination to satisfy what he must have regarded as an
artistic need. Almost immediately following his separation from the
'Call' he arranged with Goodman to write a daily letter for the
Enterprise, reporting San Francisco matters after his own notion with a
free hand. His payment for this work was thirty dollars a week, and he
had an additional return from his literary sketches. The arrangement was
an improvement both as to labor and income.
Real affluence appeared on the horizon just then, in the form of a
liberal offer for the Tennessee land. But alas! it was from a wine-
grower who wished to turn the tract into great vineyards, and Orion had a
prohibition seizure at the moment, so the trade was not made. Orion
further argued that the prospective purchaser would necessarily be
obliged to import horticultural labor from Europe, and that those people
might be homesick, badly treated, and consequently unhappy in those far
eastern Tennessee mountains. Such was Orion's way.
THE REFUGE OF THE HILLS
Those who remember Mark Twain's Enterprise letters (they are no longer
obtainable)--[Many of these are indeed now obtainable by a simple Web
search. D.W.]--declare them to have been the greatest series of daily
philippics ever written. However this may be, it is certain that they
made a stir. Goodman permitted him to say absolutely what he pleased
upon any subject. San Francisco was fairly weltering in corruption,
official and private. He assailed whatever came first to hand with all
the fierceness of a flaming indignation long restrained.
Quite naturally he attacked the police, and with such ferocity and
penetration that as soon as copies of the Enterprise came from Virginia
the City Hall began to boil and smoke and threaten trouble. Martin G.
Burke, then chief of police, entered libel suit against the Enterprise,
prodigiously advertising that paper, copies of which were snatched as
soon as the stage brought them.
Mark Twain really let himself go then. He wrote a letter that on the
outside was marked, "Be sure and let Joe see this before it goes in."
He even doubted himself whether Goodman would dare to print it, after
reading. It was a letter describing the city's corrupt morals under the
existing police government. It began, "The air is full of lechery, and
rumors of lechery," and continued in a strain which made even the
Enterprise printers aghast.
"You can never afford to publish that," the foreman said to, Goodman.
"Let it all go in, every word," Goodman answered. "If Mark can stand it,
It seemed unfortunate (at the time) that Steve Gillis should select this
particular moment to stir up trouble that would involve both himself and
Clemens with the very officials which the latter had undertaken to
punish. Passing a saloon one night alone, Gillis heard an altercation
going on inside, and very naturally stepped in to enjoy it. Including
the barkeeper, there were three against two. Steve ranged himself on the
weaker side, and selected the barkeeper, a big bruiser, who, when the
fight was over, was ready for the hospital. It turned out that he was
one of Chief Burke's minions, and Gillis was presently indicted on a
charge of assault with intent to kill. He knew some of the officials in
a friendly way, and was advised to give a straw bond and go into
temporary retirement. Clemens, of course, went his bail, and Steve set
out for Virginia City, until the storm blew over.
This was Burke's opportunity. When the case was called and Gillis did
not appear, Burke promptly instituted an action against his bondsman,
with an execution against his loose property. The watch that had been
given him as Governor of the Third House came near being thus sacrificed
in the cause of friendship, and was only saved by skilful manipulation.
Now, it was down in the chain of circumstances that Steve Gillis's
brother, James N. Gillis, a gentle-hearted hermit, a pocket-miner of the
halcyon Tuolumne district--the Truthful James of Bret Harte--happened to
be in San Francisco at this time, and invited Clemens to return with him
to the far seclusion of his cabin on Jackass Hill. In that peaceful
retreat were always rest and refreshment for the wayfarer, and more than
one weary writer besides Bret Harte had found shelter there. James
Gillis himself had fine literary instincts, but he remained a pocket-
miner because he loved that quiet pursuit of gold, the Arcadian life, the
companionship of his books, the occasional Bohemian pilgrim who found
refuge in his retreat. It is said that the sick were made well, and the
well made better, in Jim Gillis's cabin on the hilltop, where the air was
nectar and the stillness like enchantment. One could mine there if he
wished to do so; Jim would always furnish him a promising claim, and
teach him the art of following the little fan-like drift of gold specks
to the nested deposit of nuggets somewhere up the hillside. He regularly
shared his cabin with one Dick Stoker (Dick Baker, of 'Roughing It'),
another genial soul who long ago had retired from the world to this
forgotten land, also with Dick's cat, Tom Quartz; but there was always
room for guests.
In 'Roughing It', and in a later story, "The Californian's Tale," Mark
Twain has made us acquainted with the verdant solitude of the Tuolumne
hills, that dreamy, delicious paradise where once a vast population had
gathered when placer-mining had been in its bloom, a dozen years before.
The human swarm had scattered when the washings failed to pay, leaving
only a quiet emptiness and the few pocket-miners along the Stanislaus and
among the hills. Vast areas of that section present a strange appearance
to-day. Long stretches there are, crowded and jammed and drifted with
ghostly white stones that stand up like fossils of a prehistoric life--
the earth deposit which once covered them entirely washed away, every
particle of it removed by the greedy hordes, leaving only this vast
bleaching drift, literally the "picked bones of the land." At one place
stands Columbia, regarded once as a rival to Sacramento, a possible State
capital--a few tumbling shanties now--and a ruined church.
It was the 4th of December, 1864, when Mark Twain arrived at Jim Gillis's
cabin. He found it a humble habitation made of logs and slabs, partly
sheltered by a great live-oak tree, surrounded by a stretch of grass.
It had not much in the way of pretentious furniture, but there was a
large fireplace, and a library which included the standard authors.
A younger Gillis boy, William, was there at this time, so that the family
numbered five in all, including Tom Quartz, the cat. On rainy days they
would gather about the big, open fire and Jim Gillis, with his back to
the warmth, would relate diverting yarns, creations of his own, turned
out hot from the anvil, forged as he went along. He had a startling
imagination, and he had fostered it in that secluded place. His stories
usually consisted of wonderful adventures of his companion, Dick Stoker,
portrayed with humor and that serene and vagrant fancy which builds as it
goes, careless as to whither it is proceeding and whether the story shall
end well or ill, soon or late, if ever. He always pretended that these
extravagant tales of Stoker were strictly true; and Stoker--"forty-six
and gray as a rat"--earnest, thoughtful, and tranquilly serene, would
smoke and look into the fire and listen to those astonishing things of
himself, smiling a little now and then but saying never a word. What did
it matter to him? He had no world outside of the cabin and the hills, no
affairs; he would live and die there; his affairs all had ended long ago.
A number of the stories used in Mark Twain's books were first told by Jim
Gillis, standing with his hands crossed behind him, back to the fire, in
the cabin on jackass Hill. The story of Dick Baker's cat was one of
these; the jaybird and Acorn story of 'A Tramp Abroad' was another; also
the story of the "Burning Shame," and there are others. Mark Twain had
little to add to these stories; in fact, he never could get them to sound
as well, he said, as when Jim Gillis had told them.
James Gillis's imagination sometimes led him into difficulties. Once a
feeble old squaw came along selling some fruit that looked like green
plums. Stoker, who knew the fruit well enough, carelessly ventured the
remark that it might be all right, but he had never heard of anybody
eating it, which set Gillis off into eloquent praises of its delights,
all of which he knew to be purely imaginary; whereupon Stoker told him if
he liked the fruit so well, to buy some of it. There was no escape after
that; Jim had to buy some of those plums, whose acid was of the hair-
lifting aqua-fortis variety, and all the rest of the day he stewed them,
adding sugar, trying to make them palatable, tasting them now and then,
boasting meanwhile of their nectar-like deliciousness. He gave the
others a taste by and by--a withering, corroding sup--and they derided
him and rode him down. But Jim never weakened. He ate that fearful
brew, and though for days his mouth was like fire he still referred to
the luscious health-giving joys of the "Californian plums."
Jackass Hill was not altogether a solitude; here and there were
neighbors. Another pocket-miner; named Carrington, had a cabin not far
away, and a mile or two distant lived an old couple with a pair of pretty
daughters, so plump and trim and innocent, that they were called the
"Chapparal Quails." Young men from far and near paid court to them, and
on Sunday afternoons so many horses would be tied to their front fence as
to suggest an afternoon service there. Young "Billy" Gillis knew them,
and one Sunday morning took his brother's friend, Sam Clemens, over for a
call. They went early, with forethought, and promptly took the girls for
a walk. They took a long walk, and went wandering over the hills, toward
Sandy Bar and the Stanislaus--through that reposeful land which Bret
Harte would one day light with idyllic romance--and toward evening found
themselves a long way from home. They must return by the nearest way to
arrive before dark. One of the young ladies suggested a short cut
through the Chemisal, and they started. But they were lost, presently,
and it was late, very late, when at last they reached the ranch. The
mother of the "Quails" was sitting up for them, and she had something to
say. She let go a perfect storm of general denunciation, then narrowed
the attack to Samuel Clemens as the oldest of the party. He remained
"It wasn't my fault," he ventured at last; "it was Billy Gillis's fault."
"No such thing. You know better. Mr. Gillis has been here often. It
"But do you realize, ma'am, how tired and hungry we are? Haven't you got
a bite for us to eat?"
"No, sir, not a bite--for such as you."
The offender's eyes, wandering about the room, spied something in a
"Isn't that a guitar over there?" he asked.
"Yes, sir, it is; what of it?"
The culprit walked over, and taking it up, tuned the strings a little and
struck the chords. Then he began to sing. He began very softly and sang
"Fly Away, Pretty Moth," then "Araby's Daughter." He could sing very
well in those days, following with the simpler chords. Perhaps the
mother "Quail" had known those songs herself back in the States, for her
manner grew kindlier, almost with the first notes. When he had finished
she was the first to ask him to go on.
"I suppose you are just like all young folks," she said. "I was young
myself once. While you sing I'll get some supper."
She left the door to the kitchen open so that she could hear, and cooked
whatever she could find for the belated party.
THE JUMPING FROG
It was the rainy season, the winter of 1864 and 1865, but there were many
pleasant days, when they could go pocket-hunting, and Samuel Clemens soon
added a knowledge of this fascinating science to his other acquirements.
Sometimes he worked with Dick Stoker, sometimes with one of the Gillis
boys. He did not make his fortune at pocket-mining; he only laid its
corner-stone. In the old note-book he kept of that sojourn we find that,
with Jim Gillis, he made a trip over into Calaveras County soon after
Christmas and remained there until after New Year's, probably
prospecting; and he records that on New Year's night, at Vallecito, he
saw a magnificent lunar rainbow in a very light, drizzling rain. A lunax
rainbow is one of the things people seldom see. He thought it an omen of
They returned to the cabin on the hill; but later in the month, on the
they crossed over into Calaveras again, and began pocket-hunting not far
from Angel's Camp. The note-book records that the bill of fare at the
Camp hotel consisted wholly of beans and something which bore the name of
coffee; also that the rains were frequent and heavy.
January 27. Same old diet--same old weather--went out to the
pocket-claim--had to rush back.
They had what they believed to be a good claim. Jim Gillis declared the
indications promising, and if they could only have good weather to work
it, they were sure of rich returns. For himself, he would have been
willing to work, rain or shine. Clemens, however, had different views on
the subject. His part was carrying water for washing out the pans of
dirt, and carrying pails of water through the cold rain and mud was not
very fascinating work. Dick Stoker came over before long to help.
Things went a little better then; but most of their days were spent in
the bar-room of the dilapidated tavern at Angel's Camp, enjoying the
company of a former Illinois River pilot, Ben Coon,--[This name has been
variously given as "Ros Coon," "Coon Drayton," etc. It is given here as
set down in Mark Twain's notes, made on the spot. Coon was not (as has
been stated) the proprietor of the hotel (which was kept by a Frenchman),
but a frequenter of it.]--a solemn, fat-witted person, who dozed by the
stove, or old slow, endless stories, without point or application.
Listeners were a boon to him, for few came and not many would stay. To
Mark Twain and Jim Gillis, however, Ben Coon was a delight. It was
soothing and comfortable to listen to his endless narratives, told in
that solemn way, with no suspicion of humor. Even when his yarns had
point, he did not recognize it. One dreary afternoon, in his slow,
monotonous fashion, he told them about a frog--a frog that had belonged
to a man named Coleman, who trained it to jump, but that failed to win a
wager because the owner of a rival frog had surreptitiously loaded the
trained jumper with shot. The story had circulated among the camps, and
a well-known journalist, named Samuel Seabough, had already made a squib
of it, but neither Clemens nor Gillis had ever happened to hear it
before. They thought the tale in itself amusing, and the "spectacle of a
man drifting serenely along through such a queer yarn without ever
smiling was exquisitely absurd." When Coon had talked himself out, his
hearers played billiards on the frowsy table, and now and then one would
remark to the other:
"I don't see no p'ints about that frog that's any better'n any other
frog," and perhaps the other would answer:
"I ain't got no frog, but if I had a frog I'd bet you."
Out on the claim, between pails of water, Clemens, as he watched Jim
Gillis or Dick Stoker "washing," would be apt to say, "I don't see no
p'ints about that pan o' dirt that's any better'n any other pan o' dirt,"
and so they kept it up.
Then the rain would come again and interfere with their work. One
afternoon, when Clemens and Gillis were following certain tiny-sprayed
specks of gold that were leading them to pocket--somewhere up the long
slope, the chill downpour set in. Gillis, as usual, was washing, and
Clemens carrying water. The "color" was getting better with every pan,
and Jim Gillis believed that now, after their long waiting, they were to
be rewarded. Possessed with the miner's passion, he would have gone on
washing and climbing toward the precious pocket, regardless of
everything. Clemens, however, shivering and disgusted, swore that each
pail of water was his last. His teeth were chattering and he was wet
through. Finally he said, in his deliberate way:
"Jim, I won't carry any more water. This work is too disagreeable."
Gillis had just taken out a panful of dirt.
"Bring one more pail, Sam," he pleaded.
"Oh, hell, Jim, I won't do it; I'm freezing!"
"Just one more pail, Sam," he pleaded.
"No, sir, not a drop, not if I knew there were a million dollars in that
Gillis tore a page out of his note-book, and hastily posted a thirty-day
claim notice by the pan of dirt, and they set out for Angel's Camp. It
kept on raining and storming, and they did not go back. A few days later
a letter from Steve Gillis made Clemens decide to return to San
Francisco. With Jim Gillis and Dick Stoker he left Angel's and walked
across the mountains to Jackass Hill in the snow-storm--"the first I ever
saw in California," he says in his notes.
In the mean time the rain had washed away the top of the pan of earth
they had left standing on the hillside, and exposed a handful of nuggets-
pure gold. Two strangers, Austrians, had come along and, observing it,
had sat down to wait until the thirty-day claim notice posted by Jim
Gillis should expire. They did not mind the rain--not with all that gold
in sight--and the minute the thirty days were up they followed the lead a
few pans farther and took out--some say ten, some say twenty, thousand
dollars. In either case it was a good pocket. Mark Twain missed it by
one pail of water. Still, it is just as well, perhaps, when one
remembers that vaster nugget of Angel's Camp--the Jumping Frog. Jim
Gillis always declared, "If Sam had got that pocket he would have
remained a pocket-miner to the end of his days, like me."
In Mark Twain's old note-book occurs a memorandum of the frog story--a
mere casual entry of its main features:
Coleman with his jumping frog--bet stranger $50--stranger had no
frog, and C. got him one:--in the mean time stranger filled C.'s
frog full of shot and he couldn't jump. The stranger's frog won.
It seemed unimportant enough, no doubt, at the time; but it was the
nucleus around which was built a surpassing fame. The hills along the
Stanislaus have turned out some wonderful nuggets in their time, but no
other of such size as that.
BACK TO THE TUMULT
FROM the note-book:
February 25. Arrived in Stockton 5 P.m. Home again home again at
the Occidental Hotel, San Francisco--find letters from Artemus Ward
asking me to write a sketch for his new book of Nevada Territory
Travels which is soon to come out. Too late--ought to have got the
letters three months ago. They are dated early in November.
He was sorry not to oblige Ward, sorry also not to have representation in
his book. He wrote explaining the circumstance, and telling the story of
his absence. Steve Gillis, meantime, had returned to San Francisco, and
settled his difficulties there. The friends again took up residence
Mark Twain resumed his daily letters to the Enterprise, without further
annoyance from official sources. Perhaps there was a temporary truce in
that direction, though he continued to attack various abuses--civic,
private, and artistic--becoming a sort of general censor, establishing
for himself the title of the "Moralist of the Main." The letters were
reprinted in San Francisco and widely read. Now and then some one had
the temerity to answer them, but most of his victims maintained a
discreet silence. In one of these letters he told of the Mexican oyster,
a rather tough, unsatisfactory article of diet, which could not stand
criticism, and presently disappeared from the market. It was a mistake,
however, for him to attack an Alta journalist by the name of Evans.
Evans was a poet, and once composed an elegy with a refrain which ended:
Gone, gone, gone--
Gone to his endeavor;
Gone, gone, gone,
Forever and forever.
In the Enterprise letter following its publication Mark Twain referred to
this poem. He parodied the refrain and added, "If there is any criticism
to make on it I should say there is a little too much 'gone' and not
It was a more or less pointless witticism, but it had a humorous quotable
flavor, and it made Evans mad. In a squib in the Alta he retaliated:
Mark Twain has killed the Mexican oyster. We only regret that the
act was not inspired by a worthier motive. Mark Twain's sole reason
for attacking the Mexican oyster was because the restaurant that
sold them refused him credit.
A deadly thrust like that could not be parried in print. To deny or
recriminate would be to appear ridiculous. One could only sweat and
"Joe," he said to Goodman, who had come over for a visit, "my one object
in life now is to make enough money to stand trial and then go and murder
He wrote verses himself sometimes, and lightened his Enterprise letters
with jingles. One of these concerned Tom Maguire, the autocrat manager
of San Francisco theaters. It details Maguire's assault on one of his
Roused to ire,
Lighted on McDougal;
Tore his coat,
Clutched his throat,
And split him in the bugle.
For shame! oh, fie!
Will you thus skyugle?
Why curse and swear,
And rip and tear
The innocent McDougal?
Of bones bereft,
Almost, you've left
Vestvali, gentle Jew gal;
And now you've smashed
And almost hashed
The form of poor McDougall
Goodman remembers that Clemens and Gillis were together again on
California Street at this time, and of hearing them sing, "The Doleful
Ballad of the Rejected Lover," another of Mark Twain's compositions. It
was a wild, blasphemous outburst, and the furious fervor with which Mark
and Steve delivered it, standing side by side and waving their fists, did
not render it less objectionable. Such memories as these are set down
here, for they exhibit a phase of that robust personality, built of the
same primeval material from which the world was created--built of every
variety of material, in fact, ever incorporated in a human being--equally
capable of writing unprintable coarseness and that rarest and most tender
of all characterizations, the 'Recollections of JOAN of ARC'.
Along with his Enterprise work, Clemens continued to write occasionally
for the Californian, but for some reason he did not offer the story of
the jumping frog. For one thing, he did not regard it highly as literary
material. He knew that he had enjoyed it himself, but the humor and
fashion of its telling seemed to him of too simple and mild a variety in
that day of boisterous incident and exaggerated form. By and by Artemus
Ward turned up in San Francisco, and one night Mark Twain told him his
experiences with Jim Gillis, and in Angel's Camp; also of Ben Coon and
his tale of the Calaveras frog. Ward was delighted.
"Write it," he said. "There is still time to get it into my volume of
sketches. Send it to Carleton, my publisher in New York."--[This is in
accordance with Mr. Clemens's recollection of the matter. The author can
find no positive evidence that Ward was on the Pacific coast again in
1865. It seems likely, therefore, that the telling of the frog story and
his approval of it were accomplished by exchange of letters.]--
Clemens promised to do this, but delayed fulfilment somewhat, and by the
time the sketch reached Carleton, Ward's book was about ready for the
press. It did not seem worth while to Carleton to make any change of
plans that would include the frog story. The publisher handed it over to
Henry Clapp, editor of the Saturday Press, a perishing sheet, saying:
"Here, Clapp, here's something you can use in your paper." Clapp took it
thankfully enough, we may believe.
"Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog"--[This was the original title.]--
appeared in the Saturday Press of November 18, 1865, and was immediately
copied and quoted far and near. It brought the name of Mark Twain across
the mountains, bore it up and down the Atlantic coast, and out over the
prairies of the Middle West. Away from the Pacific slope only a reader
here and there had known the name before. Now every one who took a
newspaper was treated to the tale of the wonderful Calaveras frog, and
received a mental impress of the author's signature. The name Mark Twain
became hardly an institution, as yet, but it made a strong bid for
As for its owner, he had no suspicion of these momentous happenings for a
considerable time. The telegraph did not carry such news in those days,
and it took a good while for the echo of his victory to travel to the
Coast. When at last a lagging word of it did arrive, it would seem to
have brought disappointment, rather than exaltation, to the author. Even
Artemus Ward's opinion of the story had not increased Mark Twain's regard
for it as literature. That it had struck the popular note meant, as he
believed, failure for his more highly regarded work. In a letter written
January 20, 1866, he says these things for himself:
I do not know what to write; my life is so uneventful. I wish I was
back there piloting up and down the river again. Verily, all is
vanity and little worth--save piloting.
To think that, after writing many an article a man might be excused
for thinking tolerably good, those New York people should single out
a villainous backwoods sketch to compliment me on! "Jim Smiley and
His Jumping Frog"--a squib which would never have been written but
to please Artemus Ward, and then it reached New York too late to
appear in his book.
But no matter. His book was a wretchedly poor one, generally
speaking, and it could be no credit to either of us to appear
between its covers.
This paragraph is from the New York correspondence of the San Francisco
"Mark Twain's story in the Saturday Press of November 18th, called
"Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog," has set all New York in a roar,
and he may be said to have made his mark. I have been asked fifty
times about it and its author, and the papers are copying it far and
near. It is voted the best thing of the day. Cannot the
'Californian' afford to keep Mark all to itself? It should not let
him scintillate so widely without first being filtered through the
The New York publishing house of Carleton & Co. gave the sketch to
the Saturday Press when they found it was too late for the book.
It is difficult to judge the jumping Frog story to-day. It has the
intrinsic fundamental value of one of AEsop's Fables.--[The resemblance
of the frog story to the early Greek tales must have been noted by Prof.
Henry Sidgwick, who synopsized it in Greek form and phrase for his book,
Greek Prose Composition. Through this originated the impression that the
story was of Athenian root. Mark Twain himself was deceived, until in
1899, when he met Professor Sidgwick, who explained that the Greek
version was the translation and Mark Twain's the original; that he had
thought it unnecessary to give credit for a story so well known. See The
Jumping Frog, Harper & Bros., 1903, p. 64.]--It contains a basic idea
which is essentially ludicrous, and the quaint simplicity of its telling
is convincing and full of charm. It appeared in print at a time when
American humor was chaotic, the public taste unformed. We had a vast
appreciation for what was comic, with no great number of opportunities
for showing it. We were so ready to laugh that when a real opportunity
came along we improved it and kept on laughing and repeating the cause of
our merriment, directing the attention of our friends to it. Whether the
story of "Jim Smiley's Frog," offered for the first time today, would
capture the public, and become the initial block of a towering fame, is
another matter. That the author himself underrated it is certain. That
the public, receiving it at what we now term the psychological moment,
may have overrated it is by no means impossible. In any case, it does
not matter now. The stone rejected by the builder was made the corner-
stone of his literary edifice. As such it is immortal.
In the letter already quoted, Clemens speaks of both Bret Harte and
himself as having quit the 'Californian' in future expecting to write for
Eastern papers. He adds:
Though I am generally placed at the head of my breed of scribblers
in this part of the country, the place properly belongs to Bret
Harte, I think, though he denies it, along with the rest. He wants
me to club a lot of old sketches together with a lot of his, and
publish a book. I wouldn't do it, only he agrees to take all the
trouble. But I want to know whether we are going to make anything
out of it, first. However, he has written to a New York publisher,
and if we are offered a bargain that will pay for a month's labor we
will go to work and prepare the volume for the press.
Nothing came of the proposed volume, or of other joint literary schemes
these two had then in mind. Neither of them would seem to have been
optimistic as to their future place in American literature; certainly in
their most exalted moments they could hardly have dreamed that within
half a dozen years they would be the head and front of a new school of
letters--the two most talked-of men in America.
A COMMISSION TO THE SANDWICH ISLANDS
Whatever his first emotions concerning the success of "Jim Smiley's Frog"
may have been, the sudden astonishing leap of that batrachian into
American literature gave the author an added prestige at home as well as
in distant parts. Those about him were inclined to regard him, in some
degree at least, as a national literary figure and to pay tribute
accordingly. Special honors began to be shown to him. A fine new
steamer, the Ajax, built for the Sandwich Island trade, carried on its
initial trip a select party of guests of which he was invited to make
one. He did not go, and reproached himself sorrowfully afterward.
If the Ajax were back I would go quick, and throw up my correspondence.
She had fifty-two invited guests aboard--the cream of the town--gentlemen
and ladies, and a splendid brass band. I could not accept because there
would be no one to write my correspondence while I was gone.
In fact, the daily letter had grown monotonous. He was restless, and the
Ajax excursion, which he had been obliged to forego, made him still more
dissatisfied. An idea occurred to him: the sugar industry of the islands
was a matter of great commercial interest to California, while the life
and scenery there, picturesquely treated, would appeal to the general
reader. He was on excellent terms with James Anthony and Paul Morrill,
of the Sacramento Union; he proposed to them that they send him as their
special correspondent to report to their readers, in a series of letters,
life, trade, agriculture, and general aspect of the islands. To his vast
delight, they gave him the commission. He wrote home joyously now:
I am to remain there a month and ransack the islands, the cataracts and
volcanoes completely, and write twenty or thirty letters, for which they
pay as much money as I would get if I stayed at home.
He adds that on his return he expects to start straight across the
continent by way of the Columbia River, the Pend Oreille Lakes, through
Montana and down the Missouri River. "Only two hundred miles of land
travel from San Francisco to New Orleans."
So it is: man proposes, while fate, undisturbed, spins serenely on.
He sailed by the Ajax on her next trip, March 7 (1866), beginning his
first sea voyage--a brand-new experience, during which he acquired the
names of the sails and parts of the ship, with considerable knowledge of
navigation, and of the islands he was to visit--whatever information
passengers and sailors could furnish. It was a happy, stormy voyage
altogether. In 'Roughing It' he has given us some account of it.
It was the 18th of March when he arrived at Honolulu, and his first
impression of that tranquil harbor remained with him always. In fact,
his whole visit there became one of those memory-pictures, full of golden
sunlight and peace, to be found somewhere in every human past.
The letters of introduction he had brought, and the reputation which had
preceded him, guaranteed him welcome and hospitality. Officials and
private citizens were alike ready to show him their pleasant land, and he
fairly reveled in its delicious air, its summer warmth, its soft repose.
Oh, islands there are on the face of the deep
Where the leaves never fade and the skies never weep,
he quotes in his note-book, and adds:
Went with Mr. Damon to his cool, vine-shaded home; no careworn or
eager, anxious faces in this land of happy contentment. God, what a
contrast with California and the Washoe!
And in another place:
They live in the S. I.--no rush, no worry--merchant goes down to his
store like a gentleman at nine--goes home at four and thinks no more
of business till next day. D--n San F. style of wearing out life.
He fitted in with the languorous island existence, but he had come for
business, and he lost not much time. He found there a number of friends
from Washoe, including the Rev. Mr. Rising, whose health had failed from
overwork. By their direction, and under official guidance, he set out on
Oahu, one of the several curious horses he has immortalized in print,
and, accompanied by a pleasant party of ladies and gentlemen, encircled
the island of that name, crossed it and recrossed it, visited its various
battle-fields, returning to Honolulu, lame, sore, sunburnt, but
triumphant. His letters home, better even than his Union correspondence,
reveal his personal interest and enthusiasms.
I have got a lot of human bones which I took from one of these
battle-fields. I guess I will bring you some of them. I went with
the American Minister and took dinner this evening with the King's
Grand Chamberlain, who is related to the royal family, and though
darker than a mulatto he has an excellent English education, and in
manners is an accomplished gentleman. He is to call for me in the
morning; we will visit the King in the palace, After dinner they
called in the "singing girls," and we had some beautiful music, sung
in the native tongue.
It was his first association with royalty, and it was human that he
should air it a little. In the same letter he states: "I will sail in a
day or two on a tour of the other islands, to be gone two months."
'In Roughing It' he has given us a picture of his visits to the islands,
their plantations, their volcanoes, their natural and historic wonders.
He was an insatiable sight-seer then, and a persevering one. The very
name of a new point of interest filled him with an eager enthusiasm to be
off. No discomfort or risk or distance discouraged him. With a single
daring companion--a man who said he could find the way--he crossed the
burning floor of the mighty crater of Kilauea (then in almost constant
eruption), racing across the burning lava floor, jumping wide and
bottomless crevices, when a misstep would have meant death.
By and by Marlette shouted "Stop!" I never stopped quicker in my life.
I asked what the matter was. He said we were out of the path. He said
we must not try to go on until we found it again, for we were surrounded
with beds of rotten lava, through which we could easily break and plunge
down 1,000 feet. I thought Boo would answer for me, and was about to say
so, when Marlette partly proved his statement, crushing through and
disappearing to his arm-pits.
They made their way across at last, and stood the rest of the night
gazing down upon a spectacle of a crater in quivering action, a veritable
lake of fire. They had risked their lives for that scene, but it seemed
His open-air life on the river, and the mining camps, had prepared Samuel
Clemens for adventurous hardships. He was thirty years old, with his
full account of mental and physical capital. His growth had been slow,
but he was entering now upon his golden age; he was fitted for conquest
of whatever sort, and he was beginning to realize his power.
ANSON BURLINGAME AND THE "HORNET" DISASTER
It was near the end of June when he returned to Honolulu from a tour of
all the islands, fairly worn out and prostrated with saddle boils. He
expected only to rest and be quiet for a season, but all unknown to him
startling and historic things were taking place in which he was to have a
part--events that would mark another forward stride in his career.
The Ajax had just come in, bringing his Excellency Anson Burlingame, then
returning to his post as minister to China; also General Van Valkenburg,
minister to Japan; Colonel Rumsey and Minister Burlingame's son, Edward,
--[Edward L. Burlingame, now for many years editor of Scribner's
Magazine.]--then a lively boy of eighteen. Young Burlingame had read
"The Jumping Frog," and was enthusiastic about Mark Twain and his work.
Learning that he was in Honolulu, laid up at his hotel, the party sent
word that they would call on him next morning.
Clemens felt that he must not accept this honor, sick or well. He
crawled out of bed, dressed and shaved himself as quickly as possible,
and drove to the American minister's, where the party was staying. They
had a hilariously good time. When he returned to his hotel he sent them,
by request, whatever he had on hand of his work. General Van Valkenburg
had said to him:
"California is proud of Mark Twain, and some day the American people will
be, too, no doubt."
There has seldom been a more accurate prophecy.
But a still greater event was imminent. On that very day (June 21, 1866)
there came word of the arrival at Sanpahoe, on the island of Hawaii, of
an open boat containing fifteen starving wretches, who on short, ten-day
rations had been buffeting a stormy sea for forty-three days! A vessel,
the Hornet, from New York, had taken fire and burned "on the line," and
since early in May, on that meager sustenance, they had been battling
with hundreds of leagues of adverse billows, seeking for land.
A few days following the first report, eleven of the rescued men were
brought to Honolulu and placed in the hospital. Mark Twain recognized
the great news importance of the event. It would be a splendid beat if
he could interview the castaways and be the first to get their story to
his paper. There was no cable in those days; a vessel for San Francisco
would sail next morning. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and he
must not miss it. Bedridden as he was, the undertaking seemed beyond his
But just at this time the Burlingame party descended on him, and almost
before he knew it he was on the way to the hospital on a cot, escorted by
the heads of the joint legations of China and Japan. Once there, Anson
Burlingame, with his splendid human sympathy and handsome, courtly
presence, drew from those enfeebled castaways all the story of their long
privation and struggle, that had stretched across forty-three distempered
days and four thousand miles of sea. All that Mark Twain had to do was
to listen and make the notes.
He put in the night-writing against time. Next morning, just as the
vessel for the States was drifting away from her dock, a strong hand
flung his bulky envelope of manuscript aboard, and if the vessel arrived
his great beat was sure. It did arrive, and the three-column story on
the front page of the Sacramento Union, in its issue of July 19th, gave
the public the first detailed history of the terrible Hornet disaster and
the rescue of those starving men. Such a story occupied a wider place in
the public interest than it would in these crowded days. The telegraph
carried it everywhere, and it was featured as a sensation.
Mark Twain always adored the name and memory of Anson Burlingame. In his
letter home he tells of Burlingame's magnanimity in "throwing away an
invitation to dine with princes and foreign dignitaries" to help him.
"You know I appreciate that kind of thing," he says; which was a true
statement, and in future years he never missed an opportunity of paying
an instalment on his debt of gratitude. It was proper that he should do
so, for the obligation was a far greater one than that contracted in
obtaining the tale of the Hornet disaster. It was the debt which one
owes to a man who, from the deep measure of his understanding, gives
encouragement and exactly needed and convincing advice. Anson Burlingame
said to Samuel Clemens:
"You have great ability; I believe you have genius. What you need now is
the refinement of association. Seek companionship among men of superior
intellect and character. Refine yourself and your work. Never affiliate
with inferiors; always climb."
Clemens never forgot that advice. He did not always observe it, but he
rarely failed to realize its gospel. Burlingame urged him to travel.
"Come to Pekin next winter," he said, "and visit me. Make my house your
home. I will give you letters and introduce you. You will have
facilities for acquiring information about China."
It is not surprising then that Mark Twain never felt his debt to Anson
Burlingame entirely paid. Burlingame came more than once to the hotel,
for Clemens was really ill now, and they discussed plans for his future
He promised, of course, to visit China, and when he was alone put in a
good deal of time planning a trip around the world which would include
the great capitals. When not otherwise employed he read; though there
was only one book in the hotel, a "blue and gold" edition of Dr.
Holmes's Songs in Many Keys, and this he soon knew almost by heart, from
title-page to finis.
He was soon up and about. No one could remain ill long in those happy
islands. Young Burlingame came, and suggested walks. Once, when Clemens
hesitated, the young man said:
"But there is a Scriptural command for you to go."
"If you can quote one I'll obey it," said Clemens.
"Very well. The Bible says, 'If any man require thee to walk a mile, go
with him, Twain.'"
The command was regarded as sufficient. Clemens quoted the witticism
later (in his first lecture), and it was often repeated in after-years,
ascribed to Warner, Ward, and a dozen others. Its origin was as here set
Under date of July 4 (1866), Mark Twain's Sandwich Island note-book says:
Went to a ball 8.30 P.M.--danced till 12.30; stopped at General Van
Valkenburg's room and talked with him and Mr. Burlingame and Ed
Burlingame until 3 A.M.
From which we may conclude that he had altogether recovered. A few days
later. the legation party had sailed for China and Japan, and on the
19th Clemens himself set out by a slow sailing-vessel to San Francisco.
They were becalmed and were twenty-five days making the voyage. Captain
Mitchell and others of the wrecked Hornet were aboard, and he put in a
good deal of time copying their diaries and preparing a magazine article
which, he believed, would prove his real entrance to the literary world.
The vessel lay almost perfectly still, day after day, and became a
regular playground at sea. Sundays they had services and Mark Twain led
"I hope they will have a better opinion of our music in heaven than I
have down here," he says in his notes. "If they don't, a thunderbolt
will knock this vessel endways." It is perhaps worthy of mention that on
the night of the 27th of July he records having seen another "splendidly
colored, lunar rainbow." That he regarded this as an indication of
future good-fortune is not surprising, considering the events of the
It was August 13th when he reached San Francisco, and the note-book entry
of that day says:
Home again. No--not home again--in prison again, end all the wild
sense of freedom gone. The city seems so cramped and so dreary with
toil and care and business anxiety. God help me, I wish I were at
There were compensations, however. He went over to Sacramento, and was
abundantly welcomed. It was agreed that, in addition to the twenty
dollars allowed for each letter, a special bill should be made for the
"How much do you think it ought to be, Mark?" James Anthony asked.
"Oh, I'm a modest man; I don't want the whole Union office. Call it $100
There was a general laugh. The bill was made out at that figure, and he
took it to the business office for payment.
"The cashier didn't faint," he wrote, many years later, "but he came
rather near it. He sent for the proprietors, and they only laughed in
their jolly fashion, and said it was a robbery, but 'no matter, pay it.
It's all right.' The best men that ever owned a newspaper."--["My Debut
as a Literary Person."--Collected works.]--
Though inferior to the descriptive writing which a year later would give
him a world-wide fame, the Sandwich Island letters added greatly to his
prestige on the Pacific coast. They were convincing, informing; tersely
--even eloquently--descriptive, with a vein of humor adapted to their
audience. Yet to read them now, in the fine nonpareil type in which they
were set, is such a wearying task that one can only marvel at their
popularity. They were not brilliant literature, by our standards to-day.
Their humor is usually of a muscular kind, varied with grotesque
exaggerations; the literary quality is pretty attenuated. Here and there
are attempts at verse. He had a fashion in those days of combining two
or more poems with distracting, sometimes amusing, effect. Examples of
these dislocations occur in the Union letters; a single stanza will
present the general idea:
The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold,
The turf with their bayonets turning,
And his cohorts were gleaming with purple and gold,
And our lanterns dimly burning.
Only a trifling portion of the letters found their way into his Sandwich
Island chapters of 'Roughing It', five years later. They do, however,
reveal a sort of transition stage between the riotous florescence of the
Comstock and the mellowness of his later style. He was learning to see
things with better eyes, from a better point of view. It is not
difficult to believe that this literary change of heart was in no small
measure due to the influence of Anson Burlingame.
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