Mark Twain
Archibald Henderson

Part 1 out of 3

Produced by David Widger


By Archibald Henderson

With Photographs by Alvin Langdon Coburn

"Haply--who knows?--somewhere
In Avalon, Isle of Dreams,
In vast contentment at last,
With every grief done away,
While Chaucer and Shakespeare wait,
And Moliere hangs on his words,
And Cervantes not far off
Listens and smiles apart,
With that incomparable drawl
He is jesting with Dagonet now."



There are to-day, all over the world, men and women and children who owe
a debt of almost personal gratitude to Mark Twain for the joy of his
humour and the charm of his personality. In the future they will, I
doubt not, seek and welcome opportunities to acknowledge that debt. My
own experience with the works of Mark Twain is in no sense exceptional.
From the days of early childhood, my feeling for Mark Twain, derived
first solely from acquaintance with his works, was a feeling of warm
and, as it were, personal affection. With limitless interest and
curiosity, I used to hear the Uncle Remus stories from the lips of one
of our old family servants, a negro to whom I was devotedly attached.
These stories were narrated to me in the negro dialect with such perfect
naturalness and racial gusto that I often secretly wondered if the
narrator were not Uncle Remus himself in disguise. I was thus cunningly
prepared, "coached" shall I say, for the maturer charms of Tom Sawyer
and Huckleberry Finn. With Uncle Remus and Mark Twain as my preceptors,
I spent the days of my youth--excitedly alternating, spell-bound,
between the inexhaustible attractions of Tom, Huck, Jim, Indian Joe, the
Duke and the Dauphin, and their compeers on the one hand; and Brer
Rabbit, Sis Cow, and a thousand other fantastic, but very real creatures
of the animal kingdom on the other.

I felt a strange sort of camaraderie, of personal attachment, for Mark
Twain during all the years before I came into personal contact with him.
It was the dictum of a distinguished English critic, to the effect that
Huckleberry Finn was a literary masterpiece, which first awoke in me,
then a mere boy, a genuine respect for literary criticism; for here was
expressed an opinion which I had long secretly cherished, but somehow
never dared to utter!

My personal association with Mr. Clemens, comparatively brief though it
was--an ocean voyage, meetings here and there, a brief stay as a guest
in his home--gave me at last the justification for paying the debt
which, with the years, had grown greater and more insistently
obligatory. I felt both relief and pleasure when he authorized me to
pay that debt by writing an interpretation of his life and work.

It is an appreciation originating in the heart of one who loved Mark
Twain's works for a generation before he ever met Samuel L. Clemens. It
is an interpretation springing from the conviction that Mark Twain was a
great American who comprehensively incorporated and realized his own
country and his own age as no American has so completely done before
him; a supreme humorist who ever wore the panache of youth, gaiety, and
bonhomie; a brilliant wit who never dipped his darts in the poison of
cynicism, misanthropy, or despair; constitutionally a reformer who,
heedless of self, boldly struck for the right as he saw it; a
philosopher and sociologist who intuitively understood the secret
springs of human motive and impulse, and empirically demonstrated that
intuition in works which crossed frontiers, survived translation, and
went straight to the human, beneath the disguise of the racial; a genius
who lived to know and enjoy the happy rewards of his own fame; a great
man who saw life steadily and saw it whole.


August 5, 1910.

NOTE.--The author esteems himself in the highest degree fortunate in
having the co-operation of Mr. Alvin Langdon Coburn. All the
illustrations, both autochrome and monochrome, are the work of Mr.




"I've a theory that every author, while living, has a projection of
himself, a sort of eidolon, that goes about in near and distant
places, and makes friends and enemies for him out of folk who never
knew him in the flesh. When the author dies, this phantom fades
away, not caring to continue business at the old stand. Then the
dead writer lives only in the impression made by his literature;
this impression may grow sharper or fainter according to the
fashions and new conditions of the time."

of date December 23, 1901.


In the past, the attitude of the average American toward Mark Twain has
been most characteristically expressed in a sort of complacent and
chuckling satisfaction. There was pride in the thought that America,
the colossal, had produced a superman of humour. The national vanity
was touched when the nations of the world rocked and roared with
laughter over the comically primitive barbarisms of the funny man from
the "Wild and Woolly West." Mark Twain was lightly accepted as an
international comedian magically evoking the laughter of a world. It
would be a mis-statement to affirm that the works of Mark Twain were
reckoned as falling within the charmed circle of "Literature." They
were not reckoned in connexion with literature at all.

The fingers of one hand number those who realized in Mark Twain one of
the supreme geniuses of our age. Even in the event of his death, when
the flood-gates of critical chatter have been thrown emptily wide, there
is room for grave doubt whether a realization of the unique and
incomparable position of Mark Twain in the republic of letters has fully
dawned upon the American consciousness. The literatures of England and
Europe do not posit an aesthetic, embracing work of such primitive
crudity and apparently unstudied frankness as the work of Mark Twain.
It is for American criticism to posit this more comprehensive aesthetic,
and to demonstrate that the work of Mark Twain is the work of a great
artist. It would be absurd to maintain that Mark Twain's appeal to
posterity depends upon the dicta of literary criticism. It would be
absurd to deny that upon America rests the task of demonstrating, to a
world willing enough to be convinced, that Mark Twain is one of the
supreme and imperishable glories of American literature.

At any given moment in history, the number of living writers to whom can
be attributed what a Frenchman would call _mondial eclat_ is
surprisingly few. It was not so many years ago that Rudyard Kipling,
with vigorous, imperialistic note, won for himself the unquestioned
title of militant spokesman for the Anglo-Saxon race. That fame has
suffered eclipse in the passage of time. To-day, Bernard Shaw has a
fame more world-wide than that of any other literary figure in the
British Isles. His dramas are played from Madrid to Helsingfors, from
Buda-Pesth to Stockholm, from Vienna to St Petersburg, from Berlin to
Buenos Ayres. Recently Zola, Ibsen and, Tolstoy constituted the
literary hierarchy of the world--according to popular verdict. Since
Zola and Ibsen have passed from the scene, Tolstoy experts unchallenged
the profoundest influence upon the thought and consciousness of the
world. This is an influence streaming less from his works than from his
life, less from his intellect than from his conscience. The _literati_
bemoan the artist of an epoch prior to 'What is Art?' The whole world
pays tribute to the passionate integrity of Tolstoy's moral aspiration.

[While this book was going through the press, news has come of the
death of Tolstoy.]

Until yesterday, Mark Twain vied with Tolstoy for the place of most
widely read and most genuinely popular author in the world. In a sense
not easily misunderstood, Mark Twain has a place in the minds and hearts
of the great mass of humanity throughout the civilized world, which, if
measured in terms of affection, sympathy, and spontaneous enjoyment, is
without a parallel. The robust nationalism of Kipling challenges the
defiant opposition of foreigners; whilst his reportorial realism offends
many an inviolable canon of European taste. With all his incandescent
wit and comic irony, Bernard Shaw makes his most vivid impression upon
the upper strata of society; his legendary character, moreover, is
perpetually standing in the light of the serious reformer. Tolstoy's
works are Russia's greatest literary contribution to posterity; and yet
his literary fame has suffered through his extravagant ideals, the
magnificent futility of his inconsistency, and the almost maniacal
mysticism of his unrealizable hopes.

If Mark Twain makes a more deeply, more comprehensively popular appeal,
it is doubtless because he makes use of the universal solvent of humour.
That eidolon of which Aldrich speaks--a compact of good humour, robust
sanity, and large-minded humanity--has diligently "gone about in near
and distant places," everywhere making warm and lifelong friends of folk
of all nationalities who have never known Mark Twain in the flesh. The
French have a way of speaking of an author's public as if it were a
select and limited segment of the conglomerate of readers; and in a
country like France, with its innumerable literary cliques and sects,
there is some reason for the phraseology. In reality, the author
appeals to many different "publics" or classes of readers--in proportion
to the many-sidedness of the reader's human interests and the
catholicity of his tastes. Mark Twain first opens the eyes of many a
boy to the power of the great human book, warm with the actuality of
experience and the life-blood of the heart. By humorous inversion, he
points the sound moral and vivifies the right principle for the youth to
whom the dawning consciousness of morality is the first real
psychological discovery of life. With hearty laughter at the stupid
irritations of self-conscious virtue, with ironic scorn for the frigid
Puritanism of mechanical morality, Mark Twain enraptures that
innumerable company of the sophisticated who have chafed under the
omnipresent influence of a "good example" and stilled the painless pangs
of an unruly conscience. With splendid satire for the base, with shrill
condemnation for tyranny and oppression, with the scorpion-lash for the
equivocal, the fraudulent, and the insincere, Mark Twain inspires the
growing body of reformers in all countries who would remedy the ills of
democratic government with the knife of publicity. The wisdom of human
experience and of sagacious tolerance informing his books for the young,
provokes the question whether these books are not more apposite to the
tastes of experienced age than to the fancies of callow youth. The
navvy may rejoice in 'Life on the Mississippi'. Youth and age may share
without jealousy the abounding fun and primitive naturalness of
'Huckleberry Finn'. True lovers of adventure may revel in the masterly
narrative of 'Tom Sawyer'. The artist may bestow his critical meed of
approval upon the beauty of 'Joan of Arc'. The moralist may heartily
validate the ethical lesson of 'The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg'.
Anyone may pay the tribute of irresistible explosions of laughter to the
horse-play of 'Roughing It', the colossal extravagance of 'The Innocents
Abroad', the irreverence and iconoclasm of that Yankee intruder into the
hallowed confines of Camelot. All may rejoice in the spontaneity and
refreshment of truth; spiritually co-operate in forthright condemnation
of fraud, peculation, and sham; and breathe gladly the fresh and bracing
air of sincerity, sanity, and wisdom. The stevedore on the dock, the
motor-man on the street car, the newsboy on the street, the riverman on
the Mississippi--all speak with exuberant affection in memory of that
quaint figure in his white suit, his ruddy face shining through wreaths
of tobacco smoke and surmounted by a great halo of silvery hair. In one
day, as Mark Twain was fond of relating, an emperor and a _portier_ vied
with each other in tributes of admiration and esteem for this man and
his works. It is Mark Twain's imperishable glory, not simply that his
name is the most familiar of that of any author who has lived in our own
times, but that it is remembered with infinite irrepressible zest.

"We think of Mark Twain not as other celebrities, but as the man whom we
knew and loved," said Dr. Van Dyke in his Memorial Address. "We
remember the realities which made his life worth while, the strong and
natural manhood that was in him, the depth and tenderness of his
affections, his laughing enmity to all shams and pretences, his long and
faithful witness to honesty and fair-dealing.

"Those who know the story of Mark Twain's career know how bravely he
faced hardships and misfortune, how loyally he toiled for years to meet
a debt of conscience, following the injunction of the New Testament, to
provide not only things honest, but things 'honourable in the sight of
all men.'

"Those who know the story of his friendships and his family life know
that he was one who loved much and faithfully, even unto the end. Those
who know his work as a whole know that under the lambent and
irrepressible humour which was his gift, there was a foundation of
serious thoughts and noble affections and desires.

"Nothing could be more false than to suppose that the presence of humour
means the absence of depth and earnestness. There are elements of the
unreal, the absurd, the ridiculous in this strange, incongruous world
which must seem humorous even to the highest mind. Of these the Bible
says: 'He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the Almighty shall
hold them in derision.' But the mark of this higher humour is that it
does not laugh at the weak, the helpless, the true, the innocent; only
at the false, the pretentious, the vain, the hypocritical.

"Mark Twain himself would be the first to smile at the claim that his
humour was infallible; but we say without doubt that he used his gift,
not for evil, but for good. The atmosphere of his work is clean and
wholesome. He made fun without hatred. He laughed many of the world's
false claimants out of court, and entangled many of the world's false
witnesses in the net of ridicule. In his best books and stories,
coloured with his own experiences, he touched the absurdities of life
with penetrating, but not unkindly, mockery, and made us feel somehow
the infinite pathos of life's realities. No one can say that he ever
failed to reverence the purity, the frank, joyful, genuine nature of the
little children, of whom Christ said, 'Of such is the kingdom of

"Now he is gone, and our thoughts of him are tender, grateful, proud.
We are glad of his friendship; glad that he expressed so richly one of
the great elements in the temperament of America; glad that he has left
such an honourable record as a man of letters; and glad also for his own
sake that after many and deep sorrows he is at peace and, we trust,
happy in the fuller light.

"'Rest after toil, port after stormy seas,
Death after life doth greatly please."'

"'We cannot live always on the cold heights of the sublime--the
thin air stifles'--I have forgotten who said it. We cannot flush
always with the high ardour of the signers of the Declaration, nor
remain at the level of the address at Gettysburg, nor cry
continually, 'O Beautiful! My country!' Yet, in the long dull
interspans between these sacred moments we need some one to remind
us that we are a nation. For in the dead vast and middle of the
years insidious foes are lurking--anaemic refinements, cosmopolitan
decadencies, the egotistic and usurping pride of great cities, the
cold sickening of the heart at the reiterated exposures of giant
fraud and corruption. When our countrymen migrate because we have
no kings or castles, we are thankful to any one who will tell us
what we can count on. When they complain that our soil lacks the
humanity essential to great literature, we are grateful even for
the firing of a national joke heard round the world. And when Mark
Twain, robust, big-hearted, gifted with the divine power to use
words, makes us all laugh together, builds true romances with
prairie fire and Western clay, and shows us that we are at one on
all the main points, we feel that he has been appointed by
Providence to see to it that the precious ordinary self of the
Republic shall suffer no harm."

The Nation, May 12, 1910.


American literature, indeed I might say American life, can exhibit no
example of supreme success from the humblest beginnings, so signal as
the example of Mark Twain. Lincoln became President of the United
States, as did Grant and Johnson. But assassination began for Lincoln
an apotheosis which has gone to deplorable lengths of hero-worship and
adulation. Grant was one of the great failures in American public life;
and Johnson, brilliant but unstable, narrowly escaped impeachment. Mark
Twain enjoys the unique distinction of exhibiting a progressive
development, a deepening and broadening of forces, a ripening of
intellectual and spiritual powers from the beginning to the end of his
career. From the standpoint of the man of letters, the evolution of
Mark Twain from a journeyman printer to a great author, from a
merry-andrew to a world-humorist, from a river-pilot to a trustworthy
navigator on the vast and uncharted seas of human experience, may be
taken as symbolic of the romance of American life.

With a sort of mock--pride, Clemens referred at times to the ancestral
glories of his house--the judge who condemned Charles I., and all those
other notables, of Dutch and English breeds, who shed lustre upon the
name of Clemens. Yet he claimed that he had not examined into these
traditions, chiefly because "I was so busy polishing up this end of the
line and trying to make it showy." His mother, a "Lambton with a p," of
Kentucky, married John Marshall Clemens, of Virginia, a man of
determination and force, in Lexington, in 1823; but neither was endowed
with means, and their life was of the simplest. From Jamestown, in the
mountain solitudes of East Tennessee, they removed in 1829, much as
Judge Hawkins is said to have done in 'The Gilded Age', settling at
Florida, Missouri. Here was born, on November 30, 1835, a few months
after their arrival, Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Long afterwards he
stated that he had increased by one per cent. the population of this
village of one hundred inhabitants, thereby doing more than the best man
in history had ever done for any other town.

Although weak and sickly, the child did not suffer from the hard life,
and survived two other children, Margaret and Benjamin. At different
times his life was in danger, the local doctor always coming to the
rescue. He once asked his mother, after she had reached old age, if she
hadn't been uneasy about him. She admitted she had been uneasy about
him the whole time. But when he inquired further if she was afraid he
would not live, she answered after a reflective pause--as if thinking
out the facts--that she had been afraid he would!

His sister Pamela afterwards became the mother of Samuel E. Moffett, the
writer; and his brother Orion, ten years his senior, afterwards was
intimately associated with him in life and found a place in his

In 1839, John Marshall Clemens tired of the unpromising life of Florida
and removed to Hannibal, Missouri. He was a stern, unbending man, a
lawyer by profession, a merchant by vocation; after his removal to
Hannibal he became a Justice of the Peace, an office he filled with all
the dignity of a local autocrat. His forum was a "dingy" office,
furnished with "a dry-goods box, three or four rude stools, and a
puncheon bench." The solemnity of his manner in administering the law
won for him, among his neighbours, the title of Judge.

One need but recall the scenes in which Tom Sawyer was born and bred to
realize in its actuality the model from which these scenes were drawn.
"Sam was always a good-hearted boy," his mother once remarked, "but he
was a very wild and mischievous one, and, do what we would, we could
never make him go to school. This used to trouble his father and me
dreadfully, and we were convinced that he would never amount to as much
in the world as his brothers, because he was not near so steady and
sober-minded as they were." At school, he "excelled only in spelling";
outside of school he was the prototype of his own Huckleberry Finn,
mischievous and prankish, playing truant whenever the opportunity
afforded. "Often his father would start him off to school," his mother
once said, "and in a little while would follow him to ascertain his
whereabouts. There was a large stump on the way to the schoolhouse, and
Sam would take his position behind that, and as his father went past
would gradually circle around it in such a way as to keep out of sight.
Finally, his father and the teacher both said it was of no use to try to
teach Sam anything, because he was determined not to learn. But I never
gave up. He was always a great boy for history, and could never get
tired of that kind of reading; but he hadn't any use for schoolhouses
and text books."

Mr. Howells has aptly described Hannibal as a "loafing, out-at-elbows,
down-at-the-heels, slaveholding Mississippi river town." Young Clemens
accepted the institution of slavery as a matter of course, for his
father was a slave-owner; and his mother's wedding dowry consisted in
part of two or three slaves. Judge Clemens was a very austere man; like
so many other slave-holders, he silently abhorred slavery. To his
children, especially to Sam, as well as to his slaves, he was, however,
a stern taskmaster. Mark Twain has described the terms on which he and
his father lived as a sort of armed neutrality. If at times this
neutrality was broken and suffering ensued, the breaking and the
suffering were always divided up with strict impartiality between them
--his father doing the breaking and he the suffering! Sam claimed to
be a very backward, cautious, unadventurous boy. But this modest
estimate is subject to modification when we learn that once he jumped off
a two-story stable; another time he gave an elephant a plug of tobacco,
and retired without waiting for an answer; and still another time he
pretended to be talking in his sleep, and got off a portion of every
original conundrum in hearing of his father. He begs the curious not to
pry into the result--as it was of no consequence to any one but himself!

The cave, so graphically described in Tom Sawyer, was one of Sam's
favourite haunts; and his first sweetheart was Laura Hawkins, the Becky
Thatcher of Tom's admiration. "Sam was always up to some mischief,"
this lady once remarked in later life, when in reminiscential mood.
"We attended Sunday-school together, and they had a system of rewards
for saying verses after committing them to memory. A blue ticket was
given for ten verses, a red ticket for ten blue, a yellow for ten red,
and a Bible for ten yellow tickets. If you will count up, you will see
it makes a Bible for ten thousand verses. Sam came up one day with his
ten yellow tickets, and everybody knew he had not said a verse, but had
just got them by trading with the boys. But he received his Bible with
all the serious air of a diligent student!"

Mark Twain, save when in humorous vein, has never pretended that his
success was due to any marvellous qualities of mind, any indefatigable
industry, any innate energy and perseverance. I have good reason to
recall his favourite theory, which he was fond of expounding, to the
effect that circumstance is man's master. He likened circumstance to
the attraction of gravity; and declared that while it is man's privilege
to argue with circumstance, as it is the honourable privilege of the
falling body to argue with the attraction of gravity, it does no good:
man has to obey. Circumstance has as its working partner man's
temperament, his natural disposition. Temperament is not the creation
of man, but an innate quality; over it he has no authority; for its acts
he cannot be held responsible. It cannot be permanently changed or even
modified. No power can keep it modified. For it is inherent and
enduring, as unchanging as the lines upon the thumb or the conformation
of the skull. Throughout his life, circumstance seemed like a watchful
spirit, switching his temperament into those channels of experience and
development leading unerringly to the career of the author.

The death of Judge Clemens was the first link in the long chain of
circumstance--for his son was at once taken from school and apprenticed
to the editor and proprietor of the Hannibal Courier. He was allowed
the usual emolument of the office apprentice, "board and clothes, but no
money"; and even at that, though the board was paid, the clothes rarely
materialized. Several weeks later his brother Orion returned to
Hannibal, and in 1850 brought out a little paper called the 'Hannibal
Journal.' He took Sam out of the Courier office and engaged him for the
Journal at $3.50 a week--though he was never able to pay a cent of the
wages. One of Mark's fellow-townsmen once confessed: "Yes, I knew him
when he was a boy. He was a printer's devil--I think that's what they
called him--and they didn't miss it." At a banquet some years ago, Mark
Twain aptly described at length his experiences as a printer's
apprentice. There were a thousand and one menial services he was called
upon to perform. If the subscribers paid at all, it was only sometimes
--and then the town subscribers paid in groceries, the country
subscribers in cabbages and cordwood. If they paid, they were puffed in
the paper; and if the editor forgot to insert the puff, the subscriber
stopped the paper! Every subscriber regarded himself as assistant
editor, ex officio; gave orders as to how the paper was to be edited,
supplied it with opinions, and directed its policy. Of course, every
time the editor failed to follow his suggestions, he revenged himself by
stopping the paper!

After some financial stress, the paper was moved into the Clemens home,
a "two-story brick"; and here for several years it managed to worry
along, spasmodically hovering between life and death. Life was easy
with the editors of that paper; for if they pied a form, they suspended
until the next week. They always suspended anyhow, every now and then,
when the fishing was good; and always fell back upon the illness of the
editor as a convenient excuse, Mark admitted that this was a paltry
excuse, for the all-sufficing reason that a paper of that sort was just
as well off with a sick editor as a well one, and better off with a dead
one than with either of them. At the age of fifteen he considered
himself a skilled journeyman printer; and his faculty for comedic
portrayal had already betrayed itself in occasional clumsy efforts. In
'My First Literary Venture', he narrates his experiences, amongst others
how greatly he increased the circulation of the paper, and incensed the
"inveterate woman-killer," whose poetry for that week's paper read, "To
Mary in H--l" (Hannibal). Mark added a "snappy foot--note" at the
bottom, in which he agreed to let the thing pass, for just that once;
but distinctly warning Mr. J. Gordon Runnels that the paper had a
character to sustain, and that in future, when Mr. Runnels wanted to
commune with his friends in h--l, he must select some other medium for
that communication! Many were the humorous skits, crudely illustrated
with cuts made from wooden blocks hacked out with his jack-knife, which
the mischievous young "devil" inserted in his brother's paper. Here we
may discern the first spontaneous outcroppings of the genuine humorist.
"It was on this paper, the 'Hannibal Journal'," says his biographer, Mr.
Albert B. Paine, "that young Sam Clemens began his writings--burlesques,
as a rule, of local characters and conditions--usually published in his
brother's absence, generally resulting in trouble on his return. Yet
they made the paper sell, and if Orion had but realized his possession
he might have turned his brother's talent into capital even then."

One evening in 1858, the boy, consumed with wanderlust, asked his mother
for five dollars--to start on his travels. He failed to receive the
money, but he defiantly announced that he would go "anyhow." He had
managed to save a tiny sum, and that night he disappeared and fled to St
Louis. There he worked in the composing-room of the Evening News for a
time, and then started out "to see the world"--New York, where a little
World's Fair was in progress. He was somewhat better off than was
Benjamin Franklin when he entered Philadelphia--for he had two or three
dollars in pocket-change, and a ten-dollar bank-bill concealed in the
lining of his coat. For a time he sweltered in a villainous mechanics'
boarding-house in Duane Street, and worked at starvation wages in the
printing-office of Gray & Green. Being recognized one day by a man from
Hannibal, he fled to Philadelphia where he worked for some months as a
"sub" on the 'Inquirer' and the 'Public Ledger'. Next came a flying
trip to Washington "to see the sights there," and then back he went to
the Mississippi Valley. This journey to the "vague and fabled East"
really opened his eyes to the great possibilities that the world has in
store for the traveller.

Meantime, Orion had gone to Muscatine, Ohio, and acquired a small
interest there; and, after his marriage, he and his wife went to Keokuk
and started a little job printing-office. Here Sam worked with his
brother until the winter of 1856-7, when circumstance once again played
the part of good fairy. As he was walking along the street one snowy
evening, his attention was attracted by a piece of paper which the wind
had blown against the wall. It proved to be a fifty-dollar bill; and
after advertising for the owner for four days, he stealthily moved to
Cincinnati in order "to take that money out of danger." Now comes the
second crucial event in his life!

For long the ambition for river life had remained with him--and now
there seemed some possibility of realizing these ambitions. He first
wanted to be a cabin boy; then his ideal was to be a deck hand, because
of his splendid conspicuousness as he stood on the end of the stage
plank with a coil of rope in his hand. But these were only day-dreams
--he didn't admit, even to himself, that they were anything more than
heavenly impossibilities. But as he worked during the winter in the
printing-office of Wrightson & Company of Cincinnati, he whiled away his
leisure hours reading Lieutenant Herndon's account of his explorations
of the Amazon, and became greatly interested in his description of the
cocoa industry. Now he set to work to map out a new and thrilling
career. The expedition sent out by the government to explore the Amazon
had encountered difficulties and left unfinished the exploration of the
country about the head-waters, thousands of miles from the mouth of the
river. It mattered not to him that New Orleans was fifteen hundred
miles away from Cincinnati, and that he had only thirty dollars left.
His mind was made up he would go on and complete the work of
exploration. So in April, 1857, he set sail for New Orleans on an
ancient tub, called the Paul Jones. For the paltry sum of sixteen
dollars, he was enabled to revel in the unimagined glories of the main
saloon. At last he was under way--realizing his boyhood dream, unable
to contain himself for joy. At last he saw himself as that hero of his
boyish fancy--a traveller.

When he reached New Orleans, after the prolonged ecstasy of two weeks on
a tiny Mississippi steamer, he discovered that no ship was leaving for
Para, that there never had been one leaving for Para and that there
probably would not be one leaving for Para that century. A policeman
made him, move, on, threatening to run him in if he ever caught him
reflecting in the public street again. Just as his money failed him,
his old friend circumstance arrived, with another turning-point in his
life--a new link. On his way down the river he had met Horace Bixby; he
turned to him in this hour of need. It has been charged against Mark
Twain that he was deplorably lazy--apocryphal anecdotes are still
narrated with much gusto to prove it. Think of a lazy boy undertaking
the stupendous task of learning to know the intricate and treacherous
secrets of the great river, to know every foot of the route in the dark
as well as he knew his own face in the glass! And yet he confesses that
he was unaware of the immensity of the undertaking upon which he had

"In 1852," says Bixby, "I was chief pilot on the 'Paul Jones', a boat
that made occasional trips from Pittsburg to New Orleans. One day a
tall, angular, hoosier-like young fellow, whose limbs appeared to be
fastened with leather hinges, entered the pilot-house, and in a
peculiar, drawling voice, said--

"'Good mawnin, sir. Don't you want to take er piert young fellow and
teach 'im how to be er pilot?'

"'No sir; there is more bother about it than it's worth.'

"'I wish you would, mister. I'm er printer by trade, but it don't 'pear
to 'gree with me, and I'm on my way to Central America for my health. I
believe I'll make a tolerable good pilot, 'cause I like the river.'

"'What makes you pull your words that way?'

"'I don't know, mister; you'll have to ask my Ma. She pulls hern too.
Ain't there some way that we can fix it, so that you'll teach me how to
be er pilot?'

"'The only way is for money.'

"'How much are you going to charge?

"'Well, I'll teach you the river for $500.'

"'Gee whillikens! he! he! I ain't got $500, but I've got five lots in
Keokuk, Iowa, and 2000 acres of land in Tennessee that is worth two bits
an acre any time. You can have that if you want it.'

"I told him I did not care for his land, and after a while he agreed to
pay $100 in cash (borrowed from his brother-in-law, William A. Moffett,
of Virginia), $150 in twelve months, and the balance when he became a
pilot. He was with me for a long time, but sometimes took occasional
trips with other pilots." And he significantly adds "He was always
drawling out dry jokes, but then we did not pay any attention to him."

It cannot be thought accidental that Sam Clemens became a pilot. Bixby
became his mentor, the pilot-house his recitation-room, the steamboat
his university, the great river the field of knowledge.

In that stupendous course in nature's own college, he "learned the
river" as schoolboy seldom masters his Greek or his mathematics. With
the naive assurance of youth, he gaily enters upon the task of
"learning" some twelve or thirteen hundred miles of the great
Mississippi. Long afterwards, he confessed that had he really known
what he was about to require of his faculties, he would never have had
the courage to begin.

His comic sketches, published in the 'Hannibal Weekly Courier' in his
brother's absence, furnish the first link, his apprenticeship to Bixby
the second link in the chain of circumstance. For two years and a half
he sailed the river as a master pilot; his trustworthiness secured for
him the command of some of the best boats on the river, and he was so
skilful that he never met disaster on any of his trips. He narrowly
escaped it in 1861, for when Louisiana seceded, his boat was drafted
into the Confederate service. As he reached St. Louis, having taken
passage for home, a shell came whizzing by and carried off part of the
pilot-house. It was the end of an era: the Civil War had begun. The
occupation of the pilot was gone; but the river had given up to him all
of its secrets. He was to show them to a world, in 'Life on the
Mississippi' and 'Huckleberry Finn'.

The story of the derivation of the famous _nom de guerre_ has often been
narrated-and as often erroneously. As the steamboat approaches a
sandbank, snag, or other obstruction, the man at the bow heaves the lead
and sings out, "By the mark, three," "Mark twain," etc.-meaning three
fathoms deep, two fathoms, and so on. The thought of adopting Mark
Twain as a _nom de guerre_ was not original with Clemens; but the world
owes him a debt of gratitude for making forever famous a name that, but
for him, would have been forever lost. "There was a man, Captain Isaiah
Sellers, who furnished river news for the New Orleans Picayune, still
one of the best papers in the South," Mr. Clemens once confessed to
Professor Wm. L. Phelps. "He used to sign his articles Mark Twain. He
died in 1863. I liked the name, and stole it. I think I have done him
no wrong, for I seem to have made this name somewhat generally known."

The inglorious escapade of his military career, at which he himself has
poked unspeakable fun, and for which not even his most enthusiastic
biographers have any excuse, was soon ended. Had his heart really been
enlisted on the side of the South, he would doubtless have stayed at his
post. In reality, he was at that time lacking in conviction; and in
after life he became a thorough Unionist and Abolitionist. In the
summer of 1861, Governor Jackson of Missouri called for fifty thousand
volunteers to drive out the Union forces. While visiting in the small
town where his boyhood had been spent, Hannibal, Marion County, young
Clemens and some of his friends met together in a secret place one
night, and formed themselves into a military company. The spirited but
untrained Tom Lyman was made captain; and in lieu of a first lieutenant
--strange omission!--young Clemens was made second lieutenant. These
fifteen hardy souls proudly dubbed themselves the Marion Rangers. No
one thought of finding fault with such a name--it sounded too well. All
were full of notions as high-flown as the name of their company. One of
their number, named Dunlap, was ashamed of his name, because it had a
plebeian sound to his ear. So he solved the difficulty and gratified
his aristocratic ambitions by writing it d'Unlap. This may serve as a
sample of the stuff of which the company was made. Dunlap was by no
means useless; for he invented hifalutin names for the camps, and
generally succeeded in proposing a name that was, as his companions
agreed, "no slouch."

There was no real organization, nobody obeyed orders, there was never a
battle. They retreated, according to the tale of the humorist, at every
sign of the enemy. In truth, this little band had plenty of stomach for
fighting, despite its loose organization; and quite a number fought all
through the war. Mark Twain is doubtless correct in the main, in his
assertion that he has not given an unfair picture of the conditions
prevailing in many of the militia camps in the first months of the war
between the states. The men were raw and unseasoned, and even the
leaders were lacking in the rudiments of military training and
discipline. The situation was strange and unprecedented, the terrors
were none the less real that they were imaginary. As Mark says, it took
an actual collision with the enemy on the field of battle to change them
from rabbits into soldiers. Young Clemens, according to his nephew's
account, was first detailed to special duty on the river because of his
knowledge acquired as a pilot; it was not long before he was captured
and paroled. Again he was captured, this time sent to St. Louis, and
imprisoned there in a tobacco warehouse. Fearing recognition and tragic
consequences, perhaps courtmartial and death, should he, during the
formalities of exchange, be recognized by the command in Grant's army
which first captured him, he made his escape, abandoned the cause which
he afterwards spoke of as "the rebellion," and went west as secretary to
his brother Orion, lately appointed Territorial Secretary of Nevada by
the President.

A very credible and interesting biography of Mark Twain might be
compiled from his own works; and Roughing it is full of autobiography of
a coloured sort, though in the main correct. His joy in the prospect of
that trip, the exciting details of the long journey, are all narrated
with gusto and fine effect. In the "unique sinecure" of the office of
private secretary, he found he had nothing to do and no salary; so after
a short time--the fear of being recognized by Union soldiers and shot
for breaking his parole still haunting him--he, and a companion, went
off together on a fishing jaunt to Lake Tahoe. Everywhere he saw
fortunes made in a moment. He fell a prey to the prevailing excitement
and went mad like all the rest. Little wonder over the wild talk, when
cartloads of solid silver bricks as large as pigs of lead were passing
by every day before their very eyes. The wild talk grew more frenzied
from day to day. And young Clemens yielded to no one in enthusiasm and
excitement. For vividness or picturesqueness of expression none could
vie with him. With three companions, he began "prospecting," with the
most indifferent success; and soon tiring of their situation, they moved
on down to Esmeralda (now Aurora), on the other side of Carson City.
Here new life seemed to inspire the party. What mattered it if they
were in debt to the butcher--for did they not own thirty thousand feet
apiece in the "richest mines on earth"! Who cared if their credit was
not good with the grocer, so long as they revelled in mountains of
fictitious wealth and raved in the frenzied cant of the hour over their
immediate prospect of fabulous riches! But at last the practical
necessities of living put a sudden damper on their enthusiasm. Clemens
was forced at last to abandon mining, and go to work as a common
labourer in a quartz mill, at ten dollars a week and board--after flour
had soared to a dollar a pound and the rate on borrowed money had gone
to eight per cent. a month. This work was very exhausting, and after a
week Clemens asked his employer for an advance of wages. The employer
replied that he was paying Clemens ten dollars a week, and thought that
all he was worth. How much did he want? When Clemens replied that four
hundred thousand dollars a month, and board, was all he could reasonably
ask, considering the hard times, he was ordered off the premises! In
after days, Mark only regretted that, in view of the arduous labours he
had performed in that mill, he had not asked seven hundred thousand for
his services!

After a time, Mark and his friend Higbie established their claim to a
mine, became mad with excitement, and indulged in the wildest dreams for
the future. Under the laws of the district, work of a certain character
must be done upon the claim within ten days after location in order to
establish the right of possession. Mark was called away to the bedside
of a sick friend, Higbie failed to receive Mark's note, and the work was
never done--each thinking it was being properly attended to by the
other. On their return, they discovered that their claim was
"re-located," and that millions had slipped from their grasp! The very
stars in their courses seemed to fight to force young Clemens into
literature. Had Samuel Clemens become a millionaire at this time, it is
virtually certain that there would have been no Mark Twain.

After one day more of heartless prospecting, Clemens "dropped in" at the
wayside post-office. It was the hour of fate! A letter awaited him
there. We cannot call it accident--it was the result of forces and
events which had long been converging toward this end. Samuel Clemens
began his career as an itinerant, tramping "jour" printer. He wrote for
the papers on which he served as printer; and he actually read the
matter he set up in type. By observation on his travels, by study of
the writing of others, Clemens acquired information, knowledge of life,
and ingenuity of expression. He hadn't served his ten--years'
apprenticeship as a printer for nothing. In the process of setting up
tons of good and bad literature, he had learned--half unconsciously--to
appraise and to discriminate. In the same half-unconscious way, he was
actually gaining some inkling of the niceties of style. After he began
"learning the river," Clemens once wrote a funny sketch about Captain
Sellers which made a genuine "hit" with the officers on the boat. The
sketch fell into the hands of the "river-editor" of the 'St. Louis
Republican', found a place in that journal, and was widely copied
throughout the West. On the strength of it, Clemens became a sort of
river reporter, and from time to time published memoranda and comic
squibs in the 'Republican'. That passion which a French critic has
characterized as distinctively American, the passion for "seeing
yourself in print," still burned in Clemens, even during all the
hardships of prospecting and milling. At intervals he sent from the
mining regions of "Washoe," as all that part of Nevada was then called,
humorous letters signed "Josh" to the 'Daily Territorial Enterprise' of
Virginia City, at that time one of the most progressive and wide--awake
newspapers in the West.

The fateful letter which I have mentioned, contained an offer to Clemens
from the proprietor of the 'Enterprise', of the position of city editor,
at a salary of twenty-five dollars a week. To Clemens at this time,
this offer came as a perfect godsend. Twenty-five dollars a week was
nothing short of wealth, luxury. His enthusiasm oozed away when he
reflected over his ignorance and incompetence; and he gloomily recalled
his repeated failures. But necessity faced him; and opportunity knocks
but once at every door. His doubts were speedily resolved; and he
afterwards confessed that, had he been offered at that time a salary to
translate the Talmud from the original Hebrew, he would unhesitatingly
have accepted, despite some natural misgivings, and have tried to throw
as much variety into it as he could for the money. It was to fill a
vacancy, caused by the absence of Dan De Quille, the regular reporter,
on a visit to "the States," that Clemens was offered this position; but
he retained it after De Quille returned. "Mark and I had our hands
full," relates De Quille, "and no grass grew under our feet. There was
a constant rush of startling events; they came tumbling over one another
as though playing at leap-frog. While a stage robbery was being written
up, a shooting affray started; and perhaps before the pistol shots had
ceased to echo among the surrounding hills, the firebells were banging
out an alarm." A record of the variegated duties of these two, found in
an old copy of the Territorial Enterprise of 1863, bears the
unmistakable hallmarks of Mark Twain. "Our duty is to keep the universe
thoroughly posted concerning murders and street fights, and balls and
theatres, and pack-trains, and churches, and lectures, and
school-houses, and city military affairs, and highway robberies, and
Bible societies, and hay wagons, and the thousand other things which it
is within the province of local reporters to keep track of and magnify
into undue importance for the instruction of the readers of a great daily
newspaper. Beyond this revelation everything connected with these two
experiments of Providence must for ever remain an impenetrable mystery."
An admirable picture of Mark Twain on his native heath, in the latter
part of 1863, is given by Edward Peron Hingston, author of "The Genial
Showman," in the introduction to the English edition of "The Innocents

The fame of the Western humorist had already reached the ears of
Hingston; and as soon as he reached Virginia City, he went to the office
of the 'Territorial Enterprise' and asked to be presented to Mark Twain.

When he heard his name called by some one, Clemens called out:

"Pass the gentleman into my den. The noble animal is here."

The noble animal proved to be "a young man, strongly built, ruddy in
complexion, his hair of a sunny hue, his eyes light and twinkling, in
manner hearty, and nothing of the student about him--one who looked as
if he could take his own part in a quarrel, strike a smart blow as
readily as he could say a telling thing, bluffly jolly, brusquely
cordial, off-handedly good-natured." The picture is detailed and vivid:

"Let it be borne in mind that from the windows of the newspaper
office the American desert was visible; that within a radius of ten
miles Indians were encamping amongst the sage--brush; that the
whole city was populated with miners, adventurers, Jew traders,
gamblers, and all the rough-and-tumble class which a mining town in
a new territory collects together, and it will be readily
understood that a reporter for a daily paper in such a place must
neither go about his duties wearing light kid gloves, nor be
fastidious about having gilt edges to his note-books. In Mark
Twain I found the very man I had expected to see--a flower of the
wilderness, tinged with the colour of the soil, the man of thought
and the man of action rolled into one, humorist and hard-worker,
Momus in a felt hat and jack-boots. In the reporter of the
'Territorial Enterprise' I became introduced to a Californian
celebrity, rich in eccentricities of thought, lively in fancy,
quaint in remark, whose residence upon the fringe of civilization
had allowed his humour to develop without restraint, and his speech
to be rarely idiomatic."

Under the influence of the example of the proprietors of the
'Enterprise', strict stylistic disciplinarians of the Dana school of
journalism, Clemens learned the advantages of the crisp, direct style
which characterizes his writing. As a reporter, he was really
industrious in matters that met his fancy; but "cast-iron items"--for he
hated facts and figures requiring absolute accuracy--got from him only
"a lick and a promise." He was much interested in Tom Fitch's effort to
establish a literary journal, 'The Weekly Occidental'. Daggett's
opening chapters of a wonderful story, of which Fitch, Mrs Fitch, J. T.
Goodman, Dan De Quille, and Clemens were to write successive
instalments, gave that paper the _coup de grace_ in its very first
issue. Of this wonderful novel, at the close of each instalment of
which the "hero was left in a position of such peril that it seemed
impossible he could be rescued, except through means and wisdom more
than human"; of the Bohemian days of the "Visigoths,"--Clemens, De
Quille, Frank May, Louis Aldrich, and their confreres; of the practical
jokes played on each other, particularly the incident of the imitation
meerschaum ("mere sham") pipe, solemnly presented to Clemens by Steve
Gillis, C. A. V. Putnam, D. E. M'Carthy, De Quille and others--all these
belong to the fascinating domain of the biographer. When Clemens was
sent down to Carson City to report the meetings of the first Nevada
Legislature, he began for the first time to sign his letters "Mark
Twain." In his Autobiography he has explained that his function as a
legislative correspondent was to dispense compliment and censure with
impartial justice. As his disquisitions covered about half a page each
morning in the Enterprise, it is easy to understand that he was an
"influence." Questioned by Carlyle Smith in regard to his choice of
"Mark Twain," Mr. Clemens replied: "I chose my pseudonym because to nine
hundred and ninety-nine persons out of a thousand it had no meaning, and
also because it was short. I was a reporter in the Legislature at the
time, and I wished to save the Legislature time. It was much shorter to
say in their debates--for I was certain to be the occasion of some
questions of privilege--'Mark Twain' than 'the unprincipled and lying
Parliamentary Reporter of the 'Territorial Enterprise'.'"

Already his name was known the whole length of the Pacific Coast; the
Enterprise published many things from his pen which gave him local, and
afterwards national, fame; such sketches as 'The Undertaker's Chat',
'The Petrified Man' and 'The Marvellous 'Bloody Massacre'' had attracted
favourable and wide notice east of the Rocky Mountains. But his career
in Carson City came to a sudden close when he challenged the editor of
the Virginia Union to a duel, the bloodless conclusion of which is
narrated in the Autobiography. But even a challenge to a duel was
against the new law of Nevada; and obeying the warning of Governor
North, the duellists crossed the border without ceremony, and stood not
upon the order of their going.

While Mark Twain was still with the Enterprise, he was in the habit of
reserving all his "sketches" for the San Francisco newspapers, the
'Golden Era' and the 'Morning Call'. He now turns his steps to that
storied city of "Frisco," and was not long in extending his fame on that
coast. He was incorrigibly lazy, as George Barnes, the editor of the
Call, soon discovered; and Kipling was told when he was in San Francisco
that Mark was in the habit of coiling himself into a heap and meditating
until the last minute, when he would produce copy having no relationship
to the subject of his assignment--"which made the editor swear horribly,
and the readers of 'The Call' ask for more." His love for practical
joking during the California days brought him unpopularity; and one
reads in a San Francisco paper of the early days: "There have been
moments in the lives of various kind-hearted and respectable citizens of
California and Nevada, when, if Mark Twain were before them as members
of a vigilance committee for any mild crime, such as mule-stealing or
arson, it is to be feared his shrift would have been short. What a
dramatic picture the idea conjures up, to be sure! Mark, before these
honest men, infuriated by his practical jokes, trying to show them what
an innocent creature he was when it came to mules, or how the only
policy of fire insurance he held had lapsed, how void of guile he was in
any direction, and all with that inimitable drawl, that perplexed
countenance and peculiar scraping of the left foot, like a boy speaking
his first piece at school." If he just escaped disaster, he likewise
just escaped millions; on one occasion, for the space of a few moments,
he owned the famous Comstock Lode, which was, though he never suspected
it, worth millions. His trunkful of securities, which were eminently
saleable at one time, proved to be of fictitious value when "the bottom
dropped out" of the Nevada boom; and that silver mine, which he was
commissioned to sell in New York, was finally sold for three million
dollars! It was, as Mark says, the blind lead over again. Mark Twain
had the true Midas touch; but the mine of riches he was destined to
discover was a mine, not of gold or silver, but the mine of intellect
and rich human experience.

To The 'Golden Era', Mark Twain, like Prentice Mulford and Joaquin
Miller, contributed freely; and after a time he became associated with
Bret Harte on 'The Californian', Harte as editor at twenty dollars a
week, and Mark receiving twelve dollars for an article. Here
forgathered that group of brilliant writers of the Pacific Slope,
numbering Bret Harte, Mark Twain, Charles Warren Stoddard, Charles Henry
Webb, and Prentice Mulford among its celebrities; two of that remarkable
coterie were soon destined to achieve world-wide fame. "These ingenuous
young men, with the fatuity of gifted people," says Mr. Howells, "had
established a literary newspaper in San Francisco, and they brilliantly
co-operated in its early extinction." Of his first meeting with Mark
Twain, Bret Harte has left a memorable picture:

"His head was striking. He had the curly hair, the aquiline nose,
and even the aquiline eye--an eye so eagle-like that a second lid
would not have surprised me--of an unusual and dominant nature.
His eyebrows were very thick and bushy. His dress was careless,
and his general manner was one of supreme indifference to
surroundings and circumstances. Barnes introduced him as Mr. Sam
Clemens, and remarked that he had shown a very unusual talent in a
number of newspaper articles contributed over the signature of
'Mark Twain.'"

Mark tired of the life of literary drudgery in San Francisco--on one
occasion he was reduced to a solitary ten--cent piece; and General John
McComb wooed him back to journalism just as he was on the point of
returning to his old work on the Mississippi River, this time as a
Government pilot. During the earlier years in San Francisco, he was in
the habit of writing weekly letters to the 'Territorial Enterprise'
--personals, market-chat, and the like. But when he criticized the police
department of San Francisco in the most scathing terms, the officials
"found means for bringing charges that made the author's presence there
difficult and comfortless." So he welcomed the opportunity to join
Steve Gillis in a pilgrimage to the mountain home of Jim Gillis, his
brother--a "sort of Bohemian infirmary." Mark Twain revelled in the
delightful company of the original of Bret Harte's "Truthful James," and
he enjoyed the mining methods of Jackass Hill, like the true Bohemian
that he was. Soon after his arrival, Mark and Jim Gillis started out in
search of golden pockets. As De Quille says:

"They soon found and spent some days in working up the undisturbed
trail of an undiscovered deposit, They were on the 'golden
bee-line' and stuck to it faithfully, though it was necessary to carry
each sample of dirt a considerable distance to a small stream in
the bed of a canon in order to wash it. However, Mark hungered and
thirsted to find a big rich pocket, and he pitched in after the
manner of Joe Bowers of old--just like a thousand of brick.

"Each step made sure by the finding of golden grains, they at last
came upon the pocket whence these grains had trailed out down the
slope of the mountain. It was a cold, dreary drizzling day when
the 'home deposit' was found. The first sample of dirt carried to
the stream and washed out yielded only a few cents. Although the
right vein had been discovered, they had as yet found only the tail
end of the pocket.

"Returning to the vein, they dug a sample of the decomposed ore
from a new place, and were about to carry it down to the ravine and
test it, when the rain increased to a lively downpour."

Mark was chilled to the bone, and refused to carry another pail of
water. In slow, drawling tones he protested decisively:

"Jim, I won't carry any more water. This work is too disagreeable.
Let's go to the house and wait till it clears up."

Gillis was eager to test the sample he had just taken out.

"Bring just one more pail, Sam," he urged.

"I won't do it, Jim!" replied the now thoroughly disgusted Clemens.
"Not a drop! Not if I knew there were a million dollars in that pan!"

Moved by Sam's dejected appearance--blue nose and humped back--and
realizing doubtless that it was futile to reason with him further, Jim
yielded and emptied the sacks of dirt just dug upon the ground. They
now started out for the nearest shelter, the hotel in Angel's Camp, kept
by Coon Drayton, formerly a Mississippi River pilot. Imagine the jests
and shouts that went around as Mark and Coon vied with each other in
narrating interesting experiences. For three days the rain and the
stories held out; and among those told by Drayton was a story of a frog.
He narrated this story with the utmost solemnity as a thing that had
happened in Angel's Camp in the spring of '49--the story of a frog
trained by its owner to become a wonderful jumper, but which failed to
"make good" in a contest because the owner of a rival frog, in order to
secure the winning of the wager, filled the trained frog full of shot
during its owner's absence. This story appealed irresistibly to Mark as
a first-rate story told in a first-rate way; he divined in it the magic
quality unsuspected by the narrator--universal humour. He made notes in
order to remember the story, and on his return to the Gillis' cabin,
"wrote it up." He wrote a number of other things besides, all of which
he valued above the frog story; but Gillis thought it the best thing he
had ever written.

Meantime the rain had washed off the surface soil from their last pan,
which they had left in their hurry. Some passing miners were astonished
to behold the ground glittering with gold; they appropriated it, but
dared not molest the deposit until the expiration of the thirty-day
claim-notice posted by Jim Gillis. They sat down to wait, hoping that
the claimants would not return. At the expiration of the thirty days,
the claim-jumpers took possession, and soon cleared out the pocket,
which yielded twenty thousand dollars. It was one of the most fortunate
accidents in Mark Twain's career. He came within one pail of water of
comparative wealth; but had he discovered that pocket, he would probably
have settled down as a pocketminer, and might have pounded quartz for
the rest of his life. Had his nerve held out a moment longer, he would
never have gone to Angel's Camp, would never have heard The Story of the
Jumping Frog, and would have escaped that sudden fame which this little
story soon brought him.

On his return to San Francisco, he dropped in one morning to see Bret
Harte, and told him this story. As Harte records:

"He spoke in a slow, rather satirical drawl, which was in itself
irresistible. He went on to tell one of those extravagant stories,
and half-unconsciously dropped into the lazy tone and manner of the
original narrator. I asked him to tell it again to a friend who
came in, and they asked him to write it for 'The Californian'. He
did so, and when published it was an emphatic success. It was the
first work of his that had attracted general attention, and it
crossed the Sierras for an Eastern reading. The story was 'The
Jumping Frog of Calaveras.' It is now known and laughed over, I
suppose, wherever the English language is spoken; but it will never
be as funny to anyone in print as it was to me, told for the first
time, by the unknown Twain himself, on that morning in the San
Francisco Mint."

When Artemus Ward passed through California on a literary tour in 1864,
Mark Twain regaled him--as he regaled all worthy acquaintances--with his
favourite story, 'The Jumping Frog'. Ward was delighted with it.

"Write it out," he said, "give it all the necessary touches, and let me
use it in a volume of sketches I am preparing for the press. Just send
it to Carleton, my publisher, in New York."

It arrived too late for Ward's book, and Carleton presented it to Henry
Clapp, who published it in his paper, The Saturday Press of November 18,
1864. In his Autobiography, Mr. Clemens has narrated how 'The Jumping
Frog' put a quietus on 'The Saturday Press', and was immediately copied
in numerous newspapers in England and America. He was always proud of
the celebrity that story achieved; but he never sought to claim the
credit for himself. He freely admits that it was not Mark Twain, but
the frog, that became celebrated. The author, alas, remained in

Carleton afterwards confessed that he had lost the chance of a life
--time by giving The Jumping Frog away; but Mark Twain's old friend,
Charles Henry Webb, came to the rescue and published it. About four
thousand copies were sold in three years; but the real fame of the story
was in its newspaper and magazine notoriety. In 1872 it was translated
into the 'Revue des Deux Mondes'; and it was almost as widely read in
England, India, and Australia as it was in America.

Meantime Mark Twain was still awaiting the rewards of journalism, and
doing literary hack work of one sort or another. In 1866 the
proprietors of the 'Sacramento Union' employed him to write a series of
letters from the Sandwich Islands. The purpose of these letters was to
give an account of the sugar industry. Mark told the story of sugar,
but, as was his wont, threw in a lot of extraneous matter that had
nothing to do with sugar. It was the extraneous matter, and not the
sugar, that won him a wide audience on the Pacific Coast. During these
months of "luxurious vagrancy" he described in the most vivid way many
of the most notable features of the Sandwich Islands. Nowadays such
letters would at once have been embodied in a volume. In his 'My Debut
as a Literary Person', Mark Twain has described in admirably graphic
style his great "scoop" of the news of the Hornet disaster; how Anson
Burlingame had him, ill though he was, carried on a cot to the hospital,
so that he could interview the half-dead sailors. His bill--twenty
dollars a week for general correspondence, and one hundred dollars a
column for the Hornet story--was paid with all good will. On the
strength of this story, he hoped to become a "Literary Person," and sent
his account of the Hornet disaster to Harper's Magazine, where it
appeared in December, 1866. But alas! he could not give the banquet he
was going to give to celebrate his debut as a "Literary Person." He had
not written the "Mark Twain" distinctly, and when it appeared it had
been transformed into "Mike Swain"!

When Mark returned to San Francisco, he resolved to follow the example
of Stoddard and Mulford, and "enter the lecture field." The "extraneous
matter" in his letters to the Sacramento Union had made him "notorious";
and, as he put it, "San Francisco invited me to lecture." The historic
account of that lecture, in 'Roughing It', is found elsewhere in this
book. Noah Brooks, editor of the Alta California, who was present at
this lecture, has written the following graphic piece of description
"Mark Twain's method as a lecturer was distinctly unique and novel. His
slow, deliberate drawl, the anxious and perturbed expression of his
visage, the apparently painful effort with which he framed his
sentences, and, above all, the surprise that spread over his face when
the audience roared with delight or rapturously applauded the finer
passages of his word-painting, were unlike anything of the kind they had
ever known. All this was original; it was Mark Twain." Employing D. E.
McCarthy as his agent, Mark gave a number of lectures at various places
on the Pacific Coast. From this time forward we recognize in Mark Twain
one of the supreme masters of the art of lecturing in our time.

In December, 1866, he set out for New York, preparatory to the grand
tour around the world. His own account of the circular describing the
projected trip is famous. He had proposed, for twelve hundred dollars
in gold,--at the rate of twenty dollars apiece, to write a series of
letters for the 'Alta California'. Brooks, the editor, fortified the
grave misgivings of the proprietors over this proposition; but Colonel
John McComb (then on the editorial staff) argued vehemently for Mark,
and turned the scale in his favour. While Mark was in New York, he was
urged by Frank Fuller, whom he had known as Territorial Governor of
Utah, to deliver a lecture--in order to establish his reputation on the
Atlantic coast. Fuller, an enthusiastic admirer of Mark Twain, overcame
all objections, and engaged Cooper Union for the occasion. Though few
tickets were sold, Fuller cleverly succeeded in packing the hall by
sending out a multitude of complimentary tickets to the school-teachers
of New York City and the adjacent territory. That lecture proved to be
a supreme success--Mark's reputation as a lecturer on the Atlantic coast
was assured.

On June 10, 1867, the Quaker City set sail for its Oriental tour. It
bore on board a comparatively unknown person of the name of Clemens,
who, in applying for passage, represented himself to be a Baptist
minister in ill-health from San Francisco!

It brought back a celebrity, destined to become famous throughout the
world. Prior to sailing he arranged to contribute letters to the 'New
York Tribune' and the 'New York Herald', as well as to the 'Alta

"His letters to the 'Alta California'," says Noah Brooks, "made him
famous. It was my business to prepare one of these letters for the
Sunday morning paper, taking the topmost letter from a goodly pile that
was stacked in a pigeon-hole of my desk. Clemens was an indefatigable
correspondent, and his last letter was slipped in at the bottom of a
tall stack.

"It would not be quite accurate to say that Mark Twain's letters were
the talk of the town; but it was very rarely that readers of the paper
did not come into the office on Mondays to confide to the editors their
admiration of the writer, and their enjoyment of his weekly
contributions. The California newspapers copied these letters, with
unanimous approval and disregard of the copyrights of author and

It was the Western humour, and the quaintly untrammelled American
intelligence, focussed upon diverse and age-encrusted civilizations,
which caught the instantaneous fancy of a vast public. It was a virgin
field for the humorous observer; Europe had not yet become the
playground of America. It was rather a _terra incognita_, regarded with
a sort of reverential ignorance by the average American tourist. By the
range of his humour, the pertinency of his observation, and the vigour
of his expression he awoke immediate attention. And he aroused a deeply
sympathetic response in the hearts of Americans by his manly and
outspoken expression--his respect for the worthy, the admirable, the
praiseworthy, his scorn and detestation for the spurious, the specious
and the fraudulent. In this book, for the first time, he strikes the
key-note of his life and thought, which sounds so clearly throughout all
his later works. It is the true beginning of his career.

On his return to the United States in November, he resumed his newspaper
work, this time at the National Capital. On his arrival there he found
a letter from Elisha Bliss, of the 'American Publishing Company',
proposing a volume recounting the adventures of the "Excursion," to be
elaborately illustrated, and sold by subscription on a five per cent.
royalty. He eagerly accepted the offer and set to work on his notes.

"I knew Mark Twain in Washington," says Senator William M. Stewart of
Nevada, in his reminiscences 'A Senator of the Sixties', "at a time when
he was without money. He told me his condition, and said he was very
anxious to get out his book. He showed me his notes, and I saw that
they would make a great book, and probably bring him in a fortune. I
promised that I would 'stake' him until he had the book written. I made
him a clerk to my committee in the senate, which paid him six dollars
per day; then I hired a man for one hundred dollars per month to do the
work!" His mischievously extravagant description of Mark Twain at this
time is eminently worthy of record "He was arrayed in a seedy suit which
hung upon his lean frame in bunches, with no style worth mentioning. A
sheaf of scraggly, black hair leaked out of a battered, old, slouch hat,
like stuffing from an ancient Colonial sofa, and an evil-smelling cigar
butt, very much frazzled, protruded from the corner of his mouth. He
had a very sinister appearance. He was a man I had known around the
Nevada mining camps several years before, and his name was Samuel L.

It was during this winter that Mark wrote a number of humorous articles
and sketches--'The Facts in the Case of the Great Beef Contract', the
account of his resignation as clerk of the Senate Committee on
Conchology, and 'Riley--Newspaper Correspondent'. His time was chiefly
devoted to preparing the material for his book; but finding Washington
too distracting, he returned to San Francisco and completed the
manuscript therein July, 1868. For a year the publication of the book
was delayed, as recorded in the Autobiography; but it finally appeared
in print following Mark's indignant telegram to Bliss that, if the book
was not on sale in twenty-four hours, he would bring suit for damages.
Mark Twain records that in nine months the book had taken the publishing
house out of debt, advanced its stock from twenty-five to two hundred,
and left seventy thousand dollars clear profit. Eighty-five thousand
copies were sold within sixteen months, the largest sale of a four
dollar book ever achieved in America in so short a time up to that date.
It is, miraculous to relate, still the leader in its own special field
--a "bestseller" for forty years!

The proprietors of the 'Alta California' were exceeding wroth when they
heard that Clemens was preparing for publication the very letters which
they had commissioned him to write and had printed in their own paper.
They prepared to publish a cheap paper-covered edition of the letters,
and sent the American Publishing Co. a challenge in the shape of an
advance notice of their publication. Clemens hurried back to San
Francisco from the East, and soon convinced the proprietors of the 'Alta
California' of the authenticity of his copyright. The paper-covered
edition was then and there abandoned forever.

Before leaving the West to settle permanently in the East, Mark Twain
was associated for a short time with the 'Overland Monthly', edited by
Bret Harte. In his review of 'The Innocents Abroad', Harte asserted
that Clemens deserved "to rank foremost among Western humorists"; but he
was grievously disappointed in the first few contributions from Clemens
to the Overland Monthly--notably 'By Rail through France' (later
incorporated in The Innocents Abroad)--because of their perfect gravity.
At last, 'A Mediaeval Romance'--a story which has been said to contain
the germ of 'A Connecticut Yankee', because of its burlesque of
mediaevalism--won the enthusiastic approval of Bret Harte.

From this time forward, Samuel L. Clemens is seen in a new environment,
in association with new ideas and a new civilization. The history of
this second period does not fall within the scope of the present work.
It has just been narrated with brilliancy and charm by his close
associate and most intimate friend, Mr. William Dean Howells, in his
admirable book 'My Mark Twain'. In the subsequent portion of the
present work attention will be directed solely to those features of Mark
Twain's life which have a direct bearing upon his career as a man of
letters, and which throw into relief the progressive development of his

The South and the West contributed to Mark Twain's development, and
added to his store of vital experience, in greater measure than all the
other influences of his life combined. From the inexhaustible well of
those experiences he drew ever fresh contributions for the satisfaction
of the world. His mind was stocked with the rich, crude ore of early
experience--the romance and the reality of a life full of prismatic
variations of colour. The civilization of the East, its culture and
refinement, tempered the genius of Mark Twain in conformity with the
indispensable criteria of classic art. Under the broadening influence
of its persistent nationalism, he became more deeply, more profoundly,
imbued with the comprehensive ideals of American democracy. He never
lost the first fine virginal spontaneity of his native style, never
weakened in the vigour of his thought or in the primitiveness of his
expression. His contact with the East compassed the liberation of that
vast fund of stored--up early experiences, acquired through grappling
with life in many a rude encounter.

Out of its own life, the East never contributed to Mark Twain's works,
in any appreciably momentous way, either volume or immensity of fertile,
suggestive human experience. If we eliminate from the list of Mark
Twain's works those books which have their roots deep set in the soil of
South and West, we eliminate the most priceless assets of his art.
Indeed, it may be doubted whether, were those works struck from the
catalogue of his contributions, Mark Twain could justly rank as a great
genius. To his association with the South and the Southwest are due
'Tom Sawyer', 'Huckleberry Finn', 'Pudd'nhead Wilson', and 'Life on the
Mississippi'. 'The Jumping Frog' and 'Roughing It' belong peculiarly to
the West, and even 'The Innocents Abroad' falls wholly within the period
of Mark Twain's influence by the West, its standards, outlook, and
localized viewpoint.

Colonel Mulberry Sellers is a veritably human type, the embodiment,
laughably lovable, of a temperamental phase of American character in the
course of the national development. But 'The Gilded Age' has long since
disappeared from that small but tremendously significant group of works
which are tentatively destined to rank as classics. Much as I enjoy the
satiric comedy of 'A Yankee in King Arthur's Court', I have always felt
that it set before Europe an American type which is neither elevating
nor inspiring--nor national. It tends to the gratification of England
and Europe, even in the face of its democratic demolition of feudalistic
survival, by sealing a certain cheap type of vulgarity with the national
stamp. One must, nevertheless, confess with regret that this type is
the embodiment of an "ideal" still only too commonly cherished in
America. The national type, I take it, is found in such characters as
Lincoln and Phillips Brooks, in Lee and Henry W. Grady, in Charles W.
Eliot and Edwin A. Alderman, and not in a provincial 'Connecticut
Yankee', jovial and whole--hearted though he be. I say this without
forgetting or minimizing for a moment the art displayed in effecting the
devastating and illimitably humorous contrast of a present with a
remotely past civilization. 'Joan of Arc' has no local association,
being a pure work of the heart, the chivalric impulse of a noble spirit.
'The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg', viewed from any standpoint, is a
masterpiece; but its significance lies, not in the locality of its
setting, but in the universality of its moral.

In a word, it was the East which broadened and universalized the spirit
of Mark Twain. We shall see, later on, that it steadily fostered in him
a spirit of true nationalism and hardy democracy. But it was the South
and the West which lavishly gave him of their most priceless riches, and
thereby created in Mark Twain an unique and incomparable genius, the
veritable type and embodiment of their inalienably individual life and
civilization. This first phase of the life of Mark Twain has been so
strongly stressed here, because the first half of his life has always
seemed to me to have been a period of--shall I say?--God-appointed
preparation for the most significant and lastingly permanent work of the
latter half, namely, the narration of the incidents of early experience,
and the imaginative reminting of the gold of that experience.

One has only to read Mark Twain's works to learn the real history of his
life. There were momentous episodes in the latter half of his career;
but they were concerned with his life rather than with his art. We
cannot, indeed, say what or how profound is the effect of life and
experience on art. There was the happy marriage, the tragic losses of
wife and children. There were the associations with the culture and
art--circles of America and Europe--New England, New York, Berlin,
Vienna, London, Glasgow; the academic degrees--Missouri, Yale; finally
ancient Oxford for the first time conferring the coveted honour of its
degree upon a humorist; the honours his own country delighted to bestow
upon him. And there too was that gallant struggle to pay off a
tremendous debt, begun at sixty--and accomplished one year sooner than
he expected--after the most spectacular and remarkable lecture tour in
history. The beautiful chivalric spirit of this great soul shone
brightest in disaster. He insisted that it was his wife who refused to
compromise his debts for forty cents on the dollar--that it was she who
declared it must be dollar for dollar; and when a fund was raised by his
admirers to assist in lightening his burden, that it was his wife who
refused to accept it, though he was willing enough to accept it as a
welcome relief.

As an American, I can say nothing more significantly characteristic of
the man than that he was a good citizen. He possessed in rich measure
the consciousness of personal responsibility for the standards,
government, and ideals of his town, his city, and his country. Civic
conscientiousness burned strong within him; and he fought to develop and
to maintain breadth of public view and sanity of popular ideals. Blind
patriotism was impossible for this great American: he exposed the
shallowness of popular enthusiasms and the narrowness of rampant
spread-eagleism, without regard for consequence to himself or his
popularity. What a tribute to his personality that, instead of suffering,
he gained in popularity by his honest and downright outspokenness! He
wielded the lash of his bitter scorn and fearful irony upon the
wrong-doer, the hypocrite, the fraud; and aroused public opinion to
impatience with public abuse, open offence, and official discourtesy.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens impressed me as the most complete and human
individual I have ever known. He was not a great thinker; his views
were not "advanced".

The glory of his temperament was its splendid sanity, balance, and
normality. The homeliest virtues of life were his the republican virtue
of simplicity; the domestic virtue of, personal purity and passionately
simple regard for the sanctity of the marriage bond; the civic virtue of
public honesty; the business virtue of stainless private honour. Mark
Twain was one of the supreme literary geniuses of his time. But he was
something even more than this. He was not simply a great genius: he was
a great man.

"Exhilaration can be infinite, like sorrow; a joke
can be so big that it breaks the roof of the stars.
By simply going on being absurd, a thing can become
godlike; there is but one step from the ridiculous
to the sublime."


Not without wide significance in its bearing upon the general outlines
of contemporary literature is the circumstance that Mark Twain served
his apprenticeship to letters in the high school of journalism. Like
his contemporaries, Artemus Ward and Bret Harte, he first found free
play for his comic intransigeance in the broad freedom of the journal
for the masses. Brilliant as he was, Artemus Ward seemed most effective
only when he spoke in weird vernacular through the grotesque mouthpiece
of his own invention. Bret Harte sacrificed more and more of the native
flavour of his genius in his progressive preoccupation with the more
sophisticated refinements of the purely literary. Mark Twain never lost
the ruddy glow of his first inspiration, and his style, to the very end,
remained as it began--journalistic, untamed, primitive.

Both Rudyard Kipling and Bernard Shaw, who like Mark Twain have achieved
comprehensive international reputations, have succeeded in preserving
the early vigour and telling directness acquired in journalistic
apprenticeship. It was by the crude, almost barbaric, cry of his
journalese that Rudyard Kipling awoke the world with a start. That
trenchant and forthright style which imparts such an air of heightened
verisimilitude to his plays, Bernard Shaw acquired in the ranks of the
new journalism. "The writer who aims at producing the platitudes which
are 'not for an age, but for all time,'" says Bernard Shaw, "has his
reward in being unreadable in all ages; whilst Plato and Aristophanes
trying to knock some sense into the Athens of their day, Shakespeare
peopling that same Athens with Elizabethan mechanics and Warwickshire
hunts, Ibsen photographing the local doctors and vestrymen of a
Norwegian parish, Carpaccio painting the life of St. Ursula exactly as
if she were a lady living in the next street to him, are still alive and
at home everywhere among the dust and ashes of many thousands of
academic, punctilious, most archaeologically correct men of letters and
art who spent their lives haughtily avoiding the journalists' vulgar
obsession with the ephemeral." Mark Twain began his career by studying
the people and period he knew in relation to his own life. Jamestown,
Hannibal, and Virginia City, the stately Mississippi, and the orgiastic,
uproarious life of Western prairie, mountain, and gulch start to life
and live again in the pages of his books. Colonel Sellers, in the main
correct but "stretched a little" here and there; Tom Sawyer, the
"magerful" hero of boyhood; the shrewd and kindly Aunt Polly, drawn from
his own mother; Huck Finn, with the tender conscience and the gentle
heart--these and many another were drawn from the very life. In writing
of his time _a propos_ of himself, Mark Twain succeeded in telling the
truth about humanity in general and for any time.

In the main--though there are noteworthy exceptions--Mark Twain's works
originated fundamentally in the facts of his own life. He is a master
humorist--which is only another way of saying that he is a master
psychologist with the added gift of humour--because he looked upon
himself always as a complete and well-rounded repository of universally
human characteristics. _Humanus sum; et nil humanum mihi alienum est_
--this might well have served for his motto. It was his conviction that
the American possessed no unique and peculiar human characteristics
differentiating him from the rest of the world. In the same way, he
regarded himself as possessing no unique or peculiar human
characteristics differentiating him from the rest of the human race.
Like Omar he might have said "I myself am Heaven and Hell"----for within
himself he recognized, in some form, at higher or lower power, every
feature, trait, instinct, characteristic of which a human being is
capable. The last half century of his life, as he himself said in his
Autobiography, had been constantly and faithfully devoted to the study
of the human race. His knowledge came from minute self-examination--for
he regarded himself as the entire human race compacted together. It was
by concentrating his attention upon himself, by recognizing in himself
the quintessential type of the race, that he succeeded in producing
works of such pure naturalness and utter verity. A humour which is at
bottom good humour is always contagious; but there is a deeper and more
universal appeal which springs from genial and unaffected representation
of the human species, of the universal 'Genus Homo'.

It has been said, by foreign critics, that the intellectual life of
America in general takes its cue from the day, whilst the intellectual
life of Europe derives from history. If American literature be really
"Journalism under exceptionally favourable conditions," as defined by
the Danish critic, Johannes V. Jensen, then must Mark Twain be a typical
product of American literature. A certain modicum of truth may rest in
this startling and seemingly uncomplimentary definition. Interpreted
liberally, it may be taken to mean that America finds her key to the
future in the immediate vital present, rather than in a remote and hazy
past. Mark Twain was a great creative genius because he saw himself,
and so saw human nature, in the strong, searching light of the living
present. He is the greatest genius evolved by natural selection out of
the ranks of American journalism. Crude, rudimentary and boisterous as
his early writing was, at times provincial and coarse, it bore upon its
face the fresh stamp of contemporary actuality.

To the American of to-day, it is not a little exasperating to be
placidly assured by our British critics that America is sublimely
unconscious that her childhood is gone. And this gay paradox is less
arresting than the asseveration that America is lacking in humour
because she is lacking in self-knowledge. There is a certain grimly
comic irony in this commiseration with us, on the part of our British
critics, for our failure joyously to realize our old age, which they
would have us believe is a sort of premature senescence and decay. The
New World is pitied for her failure to know without illusion the
futility of the hurried pursuit of wealth, of the passion for
extravagant opulence and inordinate display, of all the hostages youth
in America eternally gives to old age. "America has produced great
artists," admits Mr. Gilbert Chesterton. Yet he maintains that "that
fact most certainly proves that she is full of a fine futility and the
end of all things. Whatever the American men of genius are, they are
not young gods making a young world. Is the art of Whistler a brave,
barbaric art, happy and headlong? Does Mr. Henry James infect us with
the spirit of a schoolboy? . . . Out of America has come a sweet and
startling cry, as unmistakable as the cry of a dying man." This sweet
and startling cry is less startling than the obvious reflection that Mr.
Chesterton has chosen to illustrate his ludicrous paradox, the two
American geniuses who have lived outside their own country, absorbed the
art ideals of the older, more sophisticated civilizations, and lost
touch with the youthful spirit, the still almost barbaric violence, the
ongoing rush and progress of America. It is worthy of remark that Mr.
James has always maintained that Mark Twain was capable of amusing only
very primitive persons; and Whistler, with his acid _diablerie_, was
wholly alien in spirit to the boisterous humour of Mark Twain. That
other brilliant but incoherent interpreter of American life, Mr. Charles
Whibley, bound to the presupposed paradox of America's pathetic
senescence and total deficiency in humour, blithely gives away his case
in the vehement assertion that America's greatest national interpreter
is--Mark Twain!

To the general, Mark Twain is, first and foremost and exclusively, the
humorist--with his shrieking Philistinism, his dominant sense for the
colossally incongruous, his spontaneous faculty for staggering,
ludicrous contrast. To the reflective, Mark Twain subsumed within
himself a "certain surcharge and overplus of power, a buoyancy, and a
sense of conquest" which typified the youth of America. It is memorable
that he breathed in his youth the bracing air of the prairie, shared the
collective ardour of the Argonauts, felt the rising thrill of Western
adventure, and expressed the crude and manly energy of navigation,
exploration, and the daring hazard for new fortune. To those who knew
him in personal intimacy, the quality that was outstanding, omnipresent
and eternally ineradicable from his nature was--paradoxical as it may
sound--not humour, not wit, not irony, not a thousand other terms that
might be associated with his name, but--the spirit of eternal youth. It
is comprehensively significant and conclusive that, to the day of her
death, Mrs. Clemens never called her husband anything but the bright
nickname--"Youth." Mark Twain is great as humorist, admirable as teller
of tales, pungent as stylist. But he has achieved another sort of
eminence that is peculiarly gratifying to Americans. "They distinguish
in his writings," says an acute French critic, "exalted and sublimated
by his genius, their national qualities of youth and of gaiety, of force
and of faith; they love his philosophy, at once practical and high
--minded. They are fond of his simple style, animated with verve and
spice, thanks to which his work is accessible to every class of readers.
They think he describes his contemporaries with such an art of
distinguishing their essential traits, that he manages to evoke, to
create even, characters and types of eternal verity. They profess for
Mark Twain the same sort of vehement admiration that we have in France
for Balzac."

Whilst Mark Twain has solemnly averred that humour is a subject which
has never had much interest for him, it is nothing more than a
commonplace to say that it is as a humorist, and as a humorist only,
that the world seems to persist in regarding him. The philosophy of his
early life was what George Meredith has aptly termed the "philosophy of
the Broad Grin." Mr. Gilbert Chesterton once said that "American
humour, neither unfathomably absurd like the French, nor sharp and
sensible and full of the realities of life like the Scotch, is simply
the humour of imagination. It consists in piling towers on towers and
mountains on mountains; of heaping a joke up to the stars and extending
it to the end of the world." This partial and somewhat conventional
foreign conception of American humour is admirably descriptive of the
cumulative and "sky-breaking" humour of the early Mark Twain. Then no
exaggeration was too absurd for him, no phantasm too unreal, no climax
too extreme.

The humour of that day was the humour bred of a barbaric freedom and a
lawless, untrammelled life. Mark Twain grew up with a civilization but
one remove from barbarism; supremacy in marksmanship was the arbiter of
argument; the greatest joke was the discomfiture of a fellow-creature.
In the laughter of these wild Westerners was something at once rustic
and sanguinary. The refinements of art and civilization seemed
effeminate, artificial, to these rude spirits, who laughed uproariously
at one another, plotted dementedly in circumvention of each other's
plans, and gloried in their defiance of both man and God. Deep in their
hearts they cherished tenderness for woman, sympathy for the weak and
the afflicted, and generosity indescribable. And yet they prided
themselves upon their barbaric rusticity, glorying in a native cunning
bred of their wild life and sharpened in the struggle for existence.
What, after all, is 'The Jumping Frog' but the elaborate narrative, in
native vernacular, of a shrewd practical joke? As Mark Twain first
heard it, this story was a solemn recital of an interesting incident in
the life of Angel's Camp. It was Mark Twain who "created" the story: he
endowed with the comic note of whimsicality that imaginative realization
of _une chose vue_, which went round the world. The humour of rustic
shrewdness in criticism of art, so elaborately exploited in 'The
Innocents Abroad', was displayed, perhaps invented, by Mark Twain in the
early journalistic days in San Francisco. In 'The Golden Era' an
excellent example is found in the following observations upon a
celebrated painting of Samson and Delilah, then on exhibition in San

"Now what is the first thing you see in looking at this picture down at
the Bank Exchange? Is it the gleaming eye and fine face of Samson? or
the muscular Philistine gazing furtively at the lovely Delilah? or is it
the rich drapery? or is it the truth to nature in that pretty foot? No,
sir. The first thing that catches the eye is the scissors at her feet.
Them scissors is too modern; thar warn't no scissors like them in them
days--by a d---d sight."

That was a brilliant and audacious conception, having the just
proportion of sanguinary humour, embodied in Mark Twain's offer, during
his lecture on the Sandwich Islands, to show his audience how the
cannibals consume their food--if only some lady would lend him a live
baby. There is the same wildly humorous tactlessness in the delicious
anecdote of Higgins.

Higgins was a simple creature, who used to haul rock; and on the day
Judge Bagley fell down the court-house steps and broke his neck, Higgins
was commissioned to carry the body in his wagon to the house of Mrs.
Bagley and break the news to her as gently as possible. When he
arrived, he shouted until Mrs. Bagley came to the door, and then
tactfully inquired if the Widder Bagley lived there! When she
indignantly replied in the negative, he gently humoured her whim; and
inquired next if Judge Bagley lived there. When she replied that he
did, Higgins offered to bet that he didn't; and delicately inquired if
the Judge were in. On being assured that he was not in at present,
Higgins triumphantly exclaimed that he expected as much. Because he had
the old Judge curled up out there in the wagon; and when Mrs. Bagley saw
him, she would doubtless admit that about all that could comfort the
Judge now would be an inquest!

Mark Twain was so fond of this bloody and ghastly humour that, on one
occasion, he utterly overreached himself and suffered serious
consequences. In the words of his fellow-journalist, Dan De Quille:

Mark Twain was fond of manufacturing items of the horrible style,
but on one occasion he overdid this business, and the disease
worked its own cure. He wrote an account of a terrible murder,
supposed to have occurred at "Dutch Nick's," a station on the
Carson River, where Empire City now stands. He made a man cut his
wife's throat and those of his nine children, after which
diabolical deed the murderer mounted his horse, cut his own throat
from ear to ear, rode to Carson City (a distance of three and a
half miles) and fell dead in front of Peter Hopkins' saloon.

All the California papers copied the item, and several made
editorial comment upon it as being the most shocking occurrence of
the kind ever known on the Pacific Coast. Of course rival Virginia
City papers at once denounced the item as a "cruel and idiotic
hoax." They showed how the publication of such "shocking and
reckless falsehoods" disgraced and injured the State, and they made
it as "sultry" as possible for the 'Enterprise' and its "fool

When the California papers saw all this and found they had been
sold, there was a howl from Siskiyou to San Diego. Some papers
demanded the immediate discharge of the author of the item by the
'Enterprise' proprietors. They said they would never quote another
line from that paper while the reporter who wrote the shocking item
remained on its force. All this worried Mark as I had never before
seen him worried. Said he: "I am being burned alive on both sides
of the mountains." We roomed together, and one night, when the
persecution was hottest, he was so distressed that he could not
sleep. He tossed, tumbled, and groaned aloud. So I set to work to
comfort him. "Mark," said I, "never mind this bit of a gale, it
will soon blow itself out. This item of yours will be remembered
and talked about when all your other work is forgotten. The murder
at Dutch Nick's will be quoted years from now as the big sell of
these times."

Said Mark: "I believe you are right; I remember I once did a thing
at home in Missouri, was caught at it, and worried almost to death.
I was a mere lad, and was going to school in a little town where I
had an uncle living. I at once left the town and did not return to
it for three years. When I finally came back I found I was only
remembered as 'the boy that played the trick on the schoolmaster.'"

Mark then told me the story, began to laugh over it, and from that
moment "ceased to groan." He was not discharged, and in less than
a month people everywhere were laughing and joking about the
"murder at Dutch Nick's."

Out of that full, free Western life, with its tremendous hazards of
fortune, its extravagant alternations from fabulous wealth to wretched
poverty, its tremendous exaggerations and incredible contrasts, was
evolved a humour as rugged, as mountainous, and as altitudinous as the
conditions which gave it birth. Mark Twain may be said to have created,
and made himself master of, this new and fantastic humour which, in its
exaggeration and elaboration, was without a parallel in the history of
humorous narration. At times it seemed little more than a sort of
infectious and hilarious nonsense; but in reality it had behind it all
the calculation of detail and elaboration. There was something in it
of the volcanic, as if at the bursting forth of some pentup force of
primitive nature. It consisted in piling Pelion on Ossa, until the
structure toppled over of its own weight and fell with a stentorian
crash of laughter which echoed among the stars. Whenever Mark Twain
conceived a humorous idea, he seemed capable of extracting from it
infinite complications of successive and cumulative comedy. This humour
seemed like the mental functionings of some mad, yet inevitably logical
jester; it grew from more to more, from extravagance to extravagance,
until reason itself tired and gave over. Such explosive stories as 'How
I Edited an Agricultural Paper', 'A Genuine Mexican Plug', the
deciphering of the Horace Greeley correspondence, 'The Facts in the Case
of the Great Beef Contract, and many another, as Mr. Chesterton has
pointed out, have one tremendous essential of great art. "The
excitement mounts up perpetually; they grow more and more comic, as a
tragedy should grow more and more tragic. The rack, tragic or comic,
goes round until something breaks inside a man. In tragedy it is his
heart, or perhaps his stiff neck. In farce I do not quite know what it
is--perhaps his funny-bone is dislocated; perhaps his skull is slightly
cracked." Mark Twain's mountainous humour, of this early type, never
contains the element of final surprise, of the sudden, the unexpected,
the _imprevu_. We know what is coming, we surrender ourselves more and
more to the mood of the narrator, holding ourselves in reserve until
laughter, no longer to be restrained, bursts forth in a torrent of
undignified and explosive mirth. Perhaps no better example can be given
than the description of the sad fate of the camel in 'A Tramp Abroad'.

In Syria, at the head-waters of the Jordan, this camel had got hold of
his overcoat; and after he finished contemplating it as an article of
apparel, he began to inspect it as an article of diet. In his
inimitable manner, Mark describes the almost religious ecstasy of that
camel as it devoured his overcoat piecemeal--first one sleeve, then the
other, velvet collar, and finally the tails. All went well until the
camel struck a batch of manuscript--containing some of Mark's humorous
letters for the home papers. Their solid wisdom soon began to lie heavy
on the camel's stomach: the jokes shook him until he began to gag and
gasp, and finally he struck statements that not even a camel could
swallow with impunity. He died in horrible agony; and Mark found on
examination that the camel had choked to death on one of the mildest
statements of fact that he had ever offered to a trusting public! Here
Mark gradually works up to an anticipated climax by piling on effect
after effect. Our risibility is excited almost as much by the
anticipation of the climax as by the recital.

Admirable instances of the ludicrous incident, of the nonsensical
recital, are found in the scene in 'Huckleberry Finn' dealing with the
performance of the King's Cameleopard or Royal Nonesuch, the address on
the occasion of the dinner in honour of the seventieth anniversary of
John Greenleaf Whittier (an historic failure), and the Turkish bath in
'The Innocents Abroad'.

In this prison filled with hot air, an attendant sat him down by a tank
of hot water and began to polish him all over with a coarse mitten.
Soon Mark noticed a disagreeable smell, and realized that the more he
was polished the worse he smelt. He urged the attendant to bury him
without unnecessary delay, as it was obvious that he couldn't possibly
"keep" long in such warm weather. But the phlegmatic attendant paid no
attention to Mark's commands and continued to scrub with renewed vigour.
Mark's consternation changed to alarm when he discovered that little
cylinders, like macaroni, began to roll from under the mitten. They
were too white to be dirt. He felt that he was gradually being pared
down to a convenient size. Realizing that it would take hours for the
attendant to trim him down to the proper size, Mark indignantly ordered
him to bring a jackplane at once and get the matter over. To all his
protests the attendant paid no attention at all.

In one of the earliest critical articles about Mark Twain, which
appeared in 'Appleton's Journal of Literature, Science and Art' for July
4,1874, Mr. G. T. Ferris gives an excellent appreciation of his humour.
"Of humour in its highest phase," he says, "perhaps Bret Harte may be
accounted the most puissant master among our contemporary American
writers. Of wit, we see next to none. Mark Twain, while lacking the
subtilty and pathos of the other, has more breadth, variety, and ease.
His sketches of life are arabesque in their strange combinations. Bits
of bright, serious description, both of landscape and society, carry us
along till suddenly we stumble on some master-stroke of grotesque and
irresistible fun. He understands the value of repose in art. One tires
of a page where every sentence sparkles with points, and the author is
constantly attitudinizing for our amusement. We like to be betrayed
into laughter as much in books as in real life. It is the unconscious,
easy, careless gait of Mark Twain that makes his most potent charm. He
seems always to be catering as much to his own enjoyment as to that of
the public. He strolls along like a great rollicking schoolboy, bent on
having a good time, and determined that his readers shall have it with

Mark Twain is the most daring of humorists. He takes his courage in his
hands for the wildest flights of fancy. His humour is the caricature of
situations, rather than of individuals; and he is not afraid to risk his
characters in colossally ludicrous situations. His art reveals itself
in choosing ludicrous situations which contain such a strong colouring
of naturalness that one's sense of reality is not outraged, but
titillated. Hence it is that his humour, in its earlier form, does not
lend itself readily to quotation. His early humour is not epigrammatic,
but cumulative and extensive. Each scene is a unit and must appear as
such. Andrew Lang not inaptly catches the note of Mark Twain's earlier
manner, when he speaks of his "almost Mephistophelean coolness, an
unwearying search after the comic sides of serious subjects, after the
mean possibilities of the sublime--these with a native sense of
incongruities and a glorious vein of exaggeration."

Mark Twain began his career as a wag; he rejoiced in being a fun-maker.
He discarded the weird spellings and crude punning of his American
forerunners; his object was not play upon words, but play upon ideas.
He offered his public, as Frank R. Stockton pointed out, the pure ore of
fun. "If he puts his private mark on it, it will pass current; it does
not require the mint stamp of the schools of humour. He is never
afraid of being laughed at." Indeed, that is a large part of his
stock-in-trade; for throughout his entire career, nothing seemed to give
him so much pleasure--though it is one of the lowest forms of humour--as
making fun of himself. In describing two monkeys that got into his room
at Delhi, he said that when he awoke, one of them was before the glass
brushing his hair, and the other one had his notebook, and was reading a
page of humorous notes and crying. He didn't mind the one with the
hair-brush; but the conduct of the other one cut him to the heart. He
never forgave that monkey. His apostrophe, with tears, over the tomb of
Adam--only to be fully appreciated in connexion with his satiric
indignation over the drivel of the maudlin Mr. Grimes, who "never bored,
but he struck water"--is an admirable example of the mechanical fooling
of self-ridicule.

In his penetrating study, 'Mark Twain a Century Hence', published at the
time of Mr. Clemens' death, Professor H. T. Peck makes this observation:
"We must judge Mark Twain as a humorist by the very best of all he wrote
rather than by the more dubious productions, in which we fail to see at
every moment the winning qualities and the characteristic form of this
very interesting American. As one would not judge of Tennyson by his
dramas, nor Thackeray by his journalistic chit-chat, nor Sir Walter
Scott by those romances which he wrote after his fecundity had been
exhausted, so we must not judge Mark Twain by the dozen or more
specimens which belong to the later period, when he was ill at ease and
growing old. Let us rather go back with a sort of joy to what he wrote
when he did so with spontaneity, when his fun was as natural to him as
breathing, and when his humour was all American humour--not like that of
Juvenal or Hierocles--acrid, or devoid of anything individual--but
brimming over with exactly the same rich irresponsibility which belonged
to Steele and Lamb and Irving. It may seem odd to group a son of the
New World and of the great West with those earlier classic figures who
have been mentioned here; yet upon analysis it will be discovered that
the humour of Mark Twain is at least first cousin to that which produced
Sir Roger de Coverley and Rip Van Winkle and The Stout Gentleman."

The details of the Gambetta-Fourtou duel, in which Mark played a
somewhat frightened second, have furnished untold amusement to
thousands. And his description of the inadvertent _faux pas_ he
committed at his first public lecture is humorous for any age and
society. The sign announcing the lecture read--"Doors open at 7. The
Trouble will begin at 8." For three days, Mark had been in a state of
frightful suspense. Once his lecture had seemed humorous; but as the
day approached, it seemed to him to be but the dreariest of fooling,
without a vestige of real fun. He was so panic-stricken that he
persuaded three of his friends, who were giants in stature, genial and
stormy voiced, to act as claquers and pound loudly at the faintest
suspicion of a joke. He bribed Sawyer, a half-drunk man, who had a
laugh hung on a hair-trigger, to get off, naturally and easily during
the course of the evening, as many laughs as he could. He begged a
popular citizen and his wife to take a conspicuous seat in a box, so
that everybody could see them. He explained that when he needed help,
he would turn toward her and smile, as a signal, that he had given birth
to an obscure joke. Then, if ever, was her time--not to investigate,
but to respond!

The fateful night found him in the depths of dejection. But heartened
up by a crowded house, full even to the aisles, he bravely set in and
proceeded to capture the house. His claquers hammered madly whenever
the very feeblest joke showed its head. Sawyer supported their
herculean efforts with bursts of stentorian laughter. As Mark
explained, not without a touch of pride, inferior jokes never fared so
royally before. But his hour of humiliation was at hand. On delivering
a bit of serious matter with impressive unction, to which the audience
listened with rapt interest, he glanced involuntarily, as if for her
approval, at his friend in the box. He remembered the compact, but it
was too late--he smiled in spite of himself. Forth came her ringing
laugh, peal after peal, which touched off the whole audience: the
explosion was immense! Sawyer choked with laughter, and the bludgeons
performed like pile-drivers. The little morsel of pathos was ruined;
but what matter, so long as the audience took it as an intentional joke,
and applauded it with unparalleled enthusiasm. Mark wisely let it go at

Reading through 'The Innocents Abroad' after many years, I find that it
has not lost its power to provoke the most side-splitting laughter; and
the same may be said of 'A Tramp Abroad' and 'Following the Equator',
which, whilst not so boisterously comical, exhibit greater mastery and
restraint. His own luck, as Mark Twain observed on one occasion, had
been curious all his literary life. He never could tell a lie that
anybody would doubt, nor a truth that anybody would believe. Could
there be a more accurate or more concise definition of the effect of his
writings, in especial of his travel notes? Like his mother, he too
never used large words, but he had a natural gift for making small ones
do effective work. How delightfully human is his comment on the
vagaries of woman's shopping! Human nature he found very much the same
all over the world; and he felt that it was so much like his dear native
home to see a Venetian lady go into a store, buy ten cents' worth of
blue ribbon, and then have it sent home in a scow. It was such little
touches of nature as this which, as he said, moved him to tears in those
far-off lands. In speaking of Palestine, he says that its holy places
are not as deliriously beautiful as the books paint them. Indeed, he
asserts that if one be calm and resolute, he can look on their beauty
and live! He bequeathed his rheumatism to Baden-Baden. It was little,
but it was all he had to give. His only regret was that he could not
leave something more catching.

There is nothing better in all of 'The Innocents Abroad' than his
analysis of the theological hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church.
Disclaiming all intention to be frivolous, irreverent or blasphemous, he
solemnly declared that his observations had taught him the real way the
Holy Personages were ranked in Rome. "The Mother of God," otherwise the
Virgin Mary, comes first, followed in order by the Deity, Peter, and
some twelve or fifteen canonized Popes and Martyrs. Last of all came
Jesus Christ the Saviour--but even then, always as an infant in arms!

Who can ever forget the Mark Twain who kissed the Hawaiian stranger for
his mother's sake, the while robbing him of his small change; who was so
struck by the fine points of his Honolulan horse that he hung his hat on
one of them; who rode glaciers as gaily as he rode Mexican plugs, and
found diverting programmes of the Roman Coliseum, in the dust and
rubbish of two thousand years ago!

Samuel L. Clemens achieved instantaneous and world-wide popularity at a
single bound by the creation of a fantastic and delightfully naive
character known as "Mark Twain." At a somewhat later day, Bernard Shaw
achieved world-wide fame by the creation of a legendary and fantastic
wit known as "G. B. S." To the composition of "Mark Twain" went all the
wild humour of ignorance--the boisterously comic admixture of the
sanguinary and the stoical. The humour of 'The Jumping Frog' and 'The
Innocents Abroad' is the savage and naive humour of the mining camp, not
the sophisticated humour of civilization. It is significant that Mme.
Blanc, a polished and refined intelligence, found the _nil admirari_
attitude of "Mark Twain" no more enlightening nor suggestive than the
stoicism of the North American Indian. This mirthful and mock-innocent
naivete, so alien to the delicate and subtle spirit of the French, found
instant response in the heart of the Anglo-Saxon and Germanic peoples.
The English and the Germans, no less than the Americans, rejoiced in
this gay fellow with his combination of appealing ignorance and but
half-concealed shrewdness. They laughed at this unsophisticated _naif_,
gazing in wide-eyed wonderment at all he saw; and they delighted in the
consciousness that, behind this thin mask, lay an acute and searching
intelligence revelling in the humorous havoc wrought by his keen
perception of the contrasts and incongruities of life. The note of this
early humour is perfectly caught in the incident of the Egyptian mummy.
Deliberately assumed ignorance of the grossest sort, by Mark Twain and
his companions, had the most devastating effect upon the foreign guide
--one of that countless tribe to all of whom Mark applied the generic name
of Ferguson. After driving Ferguson nearly mad with pretended
ignorance, they finally asked him if the mummy was dead. When Ferguson
glibly replied that he had been dead three thousand years, he was
dumbfounded at the fury of the "doctor" for being imposed upon with vile
second-hand carcases. The poor Frenchman was warned that if he didn't
bring out a nice, fresh corpse at once, they would brain him! No wonder
that, later, when he was asked for a description of the party, Ferguson
laconically remarked that they were lunatics!

In speaking of contemporary society, Ibsen once remarked: "We have made
a fiasco both in the heroic and the lover roles. The only parts in
which we have shown a little talent, are the naively comic; but with our
more highly developed self-consciousness we shall no longer be fitted
even for that." With time and "our more highly developed self
--consciousness" have largely passed the novelty and the charm of this
early naively comic humour of Mark Twain. But it is as valid still, as
it was in 1867, to record honestly the impressions directly communicated
to one by the novelties, peculiarities, individual standards and ideals
of other peoples and races. Mark Twain spoke his mind with utter
disregard for other people's opinions, the dicta of criticism or the
authoritative judgment of the schools. 'The Innocents Abroad' is
eminently readable, not alone for its humour, its clever journalism, its
remarkably accurate and detailed information, and its fine descriptions.
The rare quality, which made it "sell right along--like the Bible," is
that it is the vital record of a keen and searching intelligence. Mark
Twain found so many of the "masterpieces of the world" utterly
unimpressive and meaningless to him, that he actually began to distrust
the validity of his own impressions. Every time he gloried to think
that for once he had discovered an ancient painting that was beautiful
and worthy of all praise, the pleasure it gave him was an infallible
proof that it was not a beautiful picture, nor in any sense worthy of
commendation! He pours out the torrents of his ridicule, not
indiscriminately upon the works of the old masters themselves--though he
regarded Nature as the grandest of all the old masters--but upon those
half-baked sycophants who bend the knee to an art they do not
understand, an art of which they feign comprehension by mouthings full
of cheap and meaningless tags. As potent and effective as ever, in its
fine comic irony, is that passage in which he expresses his "envy" of
those people who pay lavish lip-service to scenes and works of art which
their expressionless language shows they neither realize nor understand.
He reserves his most biting condemnation for those second-hand critics
who accept other people's opinions for their criteria, and rave over
"beauty," "soul," "character," "expression" and "tone" in wretched,
dingy, moth-eaten pictures. He hated with the heartiest detestation
such people--whose sole ambition seemed to be to make a fine show of
knowledge of art by means of an easily acquired vocabulary of
inexpressive technical terms of art criticism.

There is much, I fear, of misguided honesty in Mark Twain's records of
foreign travel. To the things which he personally reverenced, he was
always reverential; and his expression of likes and dislikes, of
prejudices and predilections, was honest and fearless. Grant as we may
the humorist's right to exaggerate and even to distort, for the purposes
of his fun-making, it does not therefore follow that his judgments,
however forthright or sincere, are valid, reputable criticisms. One's
enjoyment of his fresh and hilarious humour, his persistent fun-making
is no whit impaired by the recognition that he was lacking in the
faculty of historic imagination and in the finer artistic sense. It is,
in a measure, because of his lack of culture and, more broadly, lack of
real knowledge, that he was enabled to evoke the laughter of the
multitude. "The Mississippi pilot, homely, naive, arrogantly candid,"
says Mr. S. P. Sherman, "refuses to sink his identity in the object
contemplated--that, as Corporal Nym would have said, is the humour of
it. He is the kind of travelling companion that makes you wonder why
you went abroad. He turns the Old World into a laughing stock by
shearing it of its storied humanity--simply because there is nothing in
him to respond to the glory that was Greece, to the grandeur that was
Rome--simpler because nothing is holier to him than a joke. He does not
throw the comic light upon counterfeit enthusiasm; he laughs at art,
history, and antiquity from the point of view of one who is ignorant of


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