The Boys’ Life of Mark Twain
by Paine

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Public Domain Books

XXXVII. “Old Times,” “Sketches,” And “Tom Sawyer”

The Rev. Joseph H. Twichell and Mark Twain used to take many long walks together, and once they decided to walk from Hartford to Boston–about one hundred miles. They decided to allow three days for the trip, and really started one morning, with some luncheon in a basket, and a little bag of useful articles. It was a bright, brisk November day, and they succeeded in getting to Westford, a distance of twenty-eight miles, that evening. But they were lame and foot-sore, and next morning, when they had limped six miles or so farther, Clemens telegraphed to Redpath:

“We have made thirty-five miles in less than five days. This shows the thing can be done. Shall finish now by rail. Did you have any bets on us?”

He also telegraphed Howells that they were about to arrive in Boston, and they did, in fact, reach the Howells home about nine o’clock, and found excellent company–the Cambridge set–and a most welcome supper waiting. Clemens and Twichell were ravenous. Clemens demanded food immediately. Howells writes:

“I can see him now as he stood up in the midst of our friends, with his head thrown back, and in his hands a dish of those scalloped oysters without which no party in Cambridge was really a party, exulting in the tale of his adventure, which had abounded in the most original characters and amusing incidents at every mile of their progress.”

The pedestrians returned to Hartford a day or two later–by train. It was during another, though less extended, tour which Twichell and Clemens made that fall, that the latter got his idea for a Mississippi book. Howells had been pleading for something for the January “Atlantic,” of which he was now chief editor, but thus far Mark Twain’s inspiration had failed. He wrote at last, “My head won’t go,” but later, the same day, he sent another hasty line.

“I take back the remark that I can’t write for the January number, for Twichell and I have had a long walk in the woods, and I got to telling him about old Mississippi days of steam-boating glory and grandeur as I saw them (during four years) from the pilot-house. He said, ’What a virgin subject to hurl into a magazine!’ I hadn’t thought of that before. Would you like a series of papers to run through three months, or six, or nine–or about four months, say?”

Howells wrote at once, welcoming the idea. Clemens forthwith sent the first instalment of that marvelous series of river chapters which rank to-day among the very best of his work. As pictures of the vanished Mississippi life they are so real, so convincing, so full of charm that they can never grow old. As long as any one reads of the Mississippi they will look up those chapters of Mark Twain’s piloting days. When the first number appeared, John Hay wrote:

“It is perfect; no more, no less. I don’t see how you do it.”

The “Old Times” chapter ran through seven numbers of the “Atlantic,” and show Mark Twain at his very best. They form now most of the early chapters of “Life on the Mississippi.” The remainder of that book was added about seven years later.

Those were busy literary days for Mark Twain. Writing the river chapters carried him back, and hardly had he finished them when he took up the neglected story of “Tom and Huck,” and finished that under full steam. He at first thought of publishing it in the “Atlantic”, but decided against this plan. He sent Howells the manuscript to read, and received the fullest praise. Howells wrote:

“It is altogether the best boy’s story I ever read. It will be an immense success.”

Clemens, however, delayed publication. He had another volume in press–a collection of his sketches–among them the “Jumping Frog,” and others of his California days. The “Jumping Frog” had been translated into French, and in this book Mark Twain published the French version and then a literal retranslation of his own, which is one of the most amusing features in the volume. As an example, the stranger’s remark, “I don’t see no p’ints about that frog that’s any better than any other frog,” in the literal retranslation becomes, “I no saw not that that frog had nothing of better than each frog,” and Mark Twain parenthetically adds, “If that isn’t grammar gone to seed, then I count myself no judge.”

“Sketches New and Old” went very well, but the book had no such sale as “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” which appeared a year later, December, 1876. From the date of its issue it took its place as foremost of American stories of boy life, a place that to this day it shares only with “Huck Finn.” Mark Twain’s own boy life in the little drowsy town of Hannibal, with John Briggs and Tom Blankenship–their adventures in and about the cave and river–made perfect material. The story is full of pure delight. The camp on the island is a picture of boy heaven. No boy that reads it but longs for the woods and a camp-fire and some bacon strips in the frying-pan. It is all so thrillingly told and so vivid. We know certainly that it must all have happened. “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” has taken a place side by side with “Treasure Island.”


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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