The Boys’ Life of Mark Twain
by Paine

Presented by

Public Domain Books

XXIII. Artemus Ward and Literary San Francisco

It was about the end of 1863 that a new literary impulse came into Mark Twain’s life. The gentle and lovable humorist Artemus Ward (Charles F. Browne) was that year lecturing in the West, and came to Virginia City. Ward had intended to stay only a few days, but the whirl of the Comstock fascinated him. He made the “Enterprise” office his headquarters and remained three weeks. He and Mark Twain became boon companions. Their humor was not unlike; they were kindred spirits, together almost constantly. Ward was then at the summit of his fame, and gave the younger man the highest encouragement, prophesying great things for ha work. Clemens, on his side, was stirred, perhaps for the first time, with a real literary ambition, and the thought that he, too, might win a place of honor. He promised Ward that he would send work to the Eastern papers.

On Christmas Eve, Ward gave a dinner to the “Enterprise” staff, at Chaumond’s, a fine French restaurant of that day. When refreshments came, Artemus lifted his glass, and said:

“I give you Upper Canada.”

The company rose and drank the toast in serious silence. Then Mr. Goodman said:

“Of course, Artemus, it’s all right, but why did you give us Upper Canada?”

“Because I don’t want it myself,” said Ward, gravely.

What would one not give to have listened to the talk of that evening! Mark Twain’s power had awakened; Artemus Ward was in his prime. They were giants of a race that became extinct when Mark Twain died.

Goodman remained rather quiet during the evening. Ward had appointed him to order the dinner, and he had attended to this duty without mingling much in the conversation. When Ward asked him why he did not join the banter, he said:

“I am preparing a joke, Artemus, but I am keeping it for the present.”

At a late hour Ward finally called for the bill. It was two hundred and thirty-seven dollars.

“What!” exclaimed Artemus.

“That’s my joke,” said Goodman.

“But I was only exclaiming because it was not twice as much,” laughed Ward, laying the money on the table.

Ward remained through the holidays, and later wrote back an affectionate letter to Mark Twain.

“I shall always remember Virginia as a bright spot in my existence,” he said, “as all others must, or rather, cannot be, as it were.”

With Artemus Ward’s encouragement, Mark Twain now began sending work eastward. The “New York Sunday Mercury” published one, possibly more, of his sketches, but they were not in his best vein, and made little impression. He may have been too busy for outside work, for the legislative session of 1864 was just beginning. Furthermore, he had been chosen governor of the “Third House,” a mock legislature, organized for one session, to be held as a church benefit. The “governor” was to deliver a message, which meant that he was to burlesque from the platform all public officials and personages, from the real governor down.

With the exception of a short talk he had once given at a printer’s dinner in Keokuk, it was Mark Twain’s first appearance as a speaker, and the beginning of a lifelong series of triumphs on the platform. The building was packed–the aisles full. The audience was ready for fun, and he gave it to them. Nobody escaped ridicule; from beginning to end the house was a storm of laughter and applause.

Not a word of this first address of Mark Twain’s has been preserved, but those who heard it always spoke of it as the greatest effort of his life, as to them it seemed, no doubt.

For his Third House address, Clemens was presented with a gold watch, inscribed “To Governor Mark Twain.” Everywhere, now, he was pointed out as a distinguished figure, and his quaint remarks were quoted. Few of these sayings are remembered to-day, though occasionally one is still unforgotten. At a party one night, being urged to make a conundrum, he said:

“Well, why am I like the Pacific Ocean?”

Several guesses were made, but he shook his head. Some one said:

“We give it up. Tell us, Mark, why are you like the Pacific Ocean?”

“I–don’t–know,” he drawled. “I was just–asking for information.”

The governor of Nevada was generally absent, and Orion Clemens was executive head of the territory. His wife, who had joined him in Carson City, was social head of the little capital, and Brother Sam, with his new distinction and now once more something of a dandy in dress, was society’s chief ornament–a great change, certainly, from the early months of his arrival less than three years before.

It was near the end of May, 1864, when Mark Twain left Nevada for San Francisco. The immediate cause of his going was a duel–a duel elaborately arranged between Mark Twain and the editor of a rival paper, but never fought. In fact, it was mainly a burlesque affair throughout, chiefly concocted by that inveterate joker, Steve Gillis, already mentioned in connection with the pipe incident. The new dueling law, however, did not distinguish between real and mock affrays, and the prospect of being served with a summons made a good excuse for Clemens and Gillis to go to San Francisco, which had long attracted them. They were great friends, these two, and presently were living together and working on the same paper, the “Morning Call,” Clemens as a reporter and Gillis as a compositor.

Gillis, with his tendency to mischief, was a constant exasperation to his room-mate, who, goaded by some new torture, would sometimes denounce him in feverish terms. Yet they were never anything but the closest friends.

Mark Twain did not find happiness in his new position on the “Call." There was less freedom and more drudgery than he had known on the “Enterprise.” His day was spent around the police court, attending fires, weddings, and funerals, with brief glimpses of the theaters at night.

Once he wrote: “It was fearful drudgery–soulless drudgery–and almost destitute of interest. It was an awful slavery for a lazy man.”

It must have been so. There was little chance for original work. He had become just a part of a news machine. He saw many public abuses that he wished to expose, but the policy of the paper opposed him. Once, however, he found a policeman asleep on his beat. Going to a near-by vegetable stall, he borrowed a large cabbage-leaf, came back, and stood over the sleeper, gently fanning him. He knew the paper would not publish the policeman’s negligence, but he could advertise it in his own way. A large crowd soon collected, much amused. When he thought the audience large enough, he went away. Next day the joke was all over the city.

He grew indifferent to the “Call” work, and, when an assistant was allowed him to do part of the running for items, it was clear to everybody that presently the assistant would be able to do it all.

But there was a pleasant and profitable side to the San Francisco life. There were real literary people there–among them a young man, with rooms upstairs in the “Call” office, Francis Bret Harte, editor of the “Californian,” a new literary weekly which Charles Henry Webb had recently founded. Bret Harte was not yet famous, but his gifts were recognized on the Pacific slope, especially by the “Era” group of writers, the “Golden Era” being a literary monthly of considerable distinction. Joaquin Miller recalls, from his diary of that period, having seen Prentice Mulford, Bret Harte, Charles Warren Stoddard, Mark Twain, Artemus Ward, and others, all assembled there at one time–a remarkable group, certainly, to be dropped down behind the Sierras so long ago. They were a hopeful, happy lot, and sometimes received five dollars for an article, which, of course, seemed a good deal more precious than a much larger sum earned in another way.

Mark Twain had contributed to the “Era” while still in Virginia City, and now, with Bret Harte, was ranked as a leader of the group. The two were much together, and when Harte became editor of the “Californian” he engaged Clemens as a regular contributor at the very fancy rate of twelve dollars an article. Some of the brief chapters included to-day in “Sketches New and Old” were done at this time. They have humor, but are not equal to his later work, and beyond the Pacific slope they seem to have attracted little attention.

In “Roughing It” the author tells us how he finally was dismissed from the “Call” for general incompetency, and presently found himself in the depths of hard luck, debt, and poverty. But this is only his old habit of making a story on himself sound as uncomplimentary as possible. The true version is that the “Call” publisher and Mark Twain had a friendly talk and decided that it was better for both to break off the connection. Almost immediately he arranged to write a daily San Francisco letter for the “Enterprise,” for which he received thirty dollars a week. This, with his earnings from the “Californian,” made his total return larger than before. Very likely he was hard up from time to time–literary men are often that–but that he was ever in abject poverty, as he would have us believe, is just a good story and not history.


Preface  •  I. The Family of John Clemens  •  II. The New Home, and Uncle John Quarles’s Farm  •  IV. Education Out of School  •  V. Tom Sawyer and His Band  •  VI. Closing School-Days  •  VII. The Apprentice  •  VIII. Orion’s Paper  •  IX. The Open Road  •  X. A Wind of Chance  •  XI. The Long Way to the Amazon  •  XII. Renewing an Old Ambition  •  XIII. Learning the River  •  XIV. River Days  •  XV. The Wreck of the “Pennsylvania”  •  XVI. The Pilot  •  XVII. The End of Piloting  •  XVIII. The Soldier  •  XIX. The Pioneer  •  XX. The Miner  •  XXI. The Territorial Enterprise  •  XXII. “Mark Twain”  •  XXIII. Artemus Ward and Literary San Francisco  •  XXIV. The Discovery of “The Jumping Frog”  •  XXV. Hawaii and Anson Burlingame  •  XXVI. Mark Twain, Lecturer  •  XXVII. An Innocent Abroad, and Home Again  •  XXVIII. Olivia Langdon. Work on the “Innocents”  •  XXIX. The Visit to Elmira and Its Consequences  •  XXX. The New Book and a Wedding  •  XXXI. Mark Twain in Buffalo  •  XXXII. At Work on “Roughing It”  •  XXXIII. In England  •  XXXIV. A New Book and New English Triumphs  •  XXXV. Beginning “Tom Sawyer”  •  XXXVI. The New Home  •  XXXVII. “Old Times,” “Sketches,” And “Tom Sawyer”  •  XXXVIII. Home Pictures  •  XXXIX. Tramping Abroad  •  XL. “The Prince and the Pauper”  •  XLI. General Grant at Hartford  •  XLII. Many Investments  •  XLIII. Back to the River, With Bixby  •  XLIV. A Reading-Tour With Cable  •  XLV. “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”  •  XLVI. Publisher to General Grant  •  XLVII. The High-Tide of Fortune  •  XLVIII. Business Difficulties. Pleasanter Things  •  XLIX. Kipling at Elmira. Elsie Leslie. The “Yankee”  •  L. The Machine. Good-By to Hartford. “Joan” Is Begun  •  LI. The Failure of Webster & Co. Around the World. Sorrow  •  LII. European Economies  •  LIII. Mark Twain Pays His Debts  •  LIV. Return After Exile  •  LV. A Prophet At Home  •  LVI. Honored by Missouri  •  LVII. The Close of a Beautiful Life  •  LVIII. Mark Twain at Seventy  •  LIX. Mark Twain Arranges for His Biography  •  LX. Working With Mark Twain  •  LXI. Dictations at Dublin, N. H.  •  LXII. A New Era of Billiards  •  LXIII. Living With Mark Twain  •  LXIV. A Degree From Oxford  •  LXV. The Removal to Redding  •  LXVI. Life at Stormfield  •  LXVII. The Death of Jean  •  LXVIII. Days in Bermuda  •  LXIX. The Return to Redding  •  LXX. The Close of a Great Life

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The boys' life of Mark Twain: The story of a man who made the world laugh and love him
By Albert Bigelow Paine
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