|With Artemus Ward's encouragement, Clemens began to think of extending
his audience eastward. The New York Sunday Mercury published literary
matter. Ward had urged him to try this market, and promised to write a
special letter to the editors, introducing Mark Twain and his work.
Clemens prepared a sketch of the Comstock variety, scarcely refined in
character and full of personal allusion, a humor not suited to the
present-day reader. Its general subject was children; it contained some
absurd remedies, supposedly sent to his old pilot friend Zeb Leavenworth,
and was written as much for a joke on that good-natured soul as for
profit or reputation.
"I wrote it especially for Beck Jolly's use," the author declares, in a
letter to his mother, "so he could pester Zeb with it."
We cannot know to-day whether Zeb was pestered or not. A faded clipping
is all that remains of the incident. As literature the article, properly
enough, is lost to the world at large. It is only worth remembering as
his metropolitan beginning. Yet he must have thought rather highly of it
(his estimation of his own work was always unsafe), for in the letter
above quoted he adds:
I cannot write regularly for the Mercury, of course, I sha'n't have
time. But sometimes I throw off a pearl (there is no self-conceit
about that, I beg you to observe) which ought for the eternal
welfare of my race to have a more extensive circulation than is
afforded by a local daily paper.
And if Fitzhugh Ludlow (author of the 'Hasheesh Eater') comes your
way, treat him well. He published a high encomium upon Mark Twain
(the same being eminently just and truthful, I beseech you to
believe) in a San Francisco paper. Artemus Ward said that when my
gorgeous talents were publicly acknowledged by such high authority I
ought to appreciate them myself, leave sage-brush obscurity, and
journey to New York with him, as he wanted me to do. But I
preferred not to burst upon the New York public too suddenly and
brilliantly, so I concluded to remain here.
He was in Carson City when this was written, preparing for the opening of
the next legislature. He was beyond question now the most conspicuous
figure of the capital; also the most wholesomely respected, for his
influence had become very large. It was said that he could control more
votes than any legislative member, and with his friends, Simmons and
Clagget, could pass or defeat any bill offered. The Enterprise was a
powerful organ--to be courted and dreaded--and Mark Twain had become its
chief tribune. That he was fearless, merciless, and incorruptible,
without doubt had a salutary influence on that legislative session. He
reveled in his power; but it is not recorded that he ever abused it. He
got a bill passed, largely increasing Orion's official fees, but this was
a crying need and was so recognized. He made no secret promises, none at
all that he did not intend to fulfill. "Sam's word was as fixed as
fate," Orion records, and it may be added that he was morally as
The two Houses of the last territorial legislature of Nevada assembled
January 12, 1864.--[Nevada became a State October 31, 1864.]--
A few days later a "Third House" was organized--an institution quite in
keeping with the happy atmosphere of that day and locality, for it was a
burlesque organization, and Mark Twain was selected as its "Governor."
The new House prepared to make a public occasion of this first session,
and its Governor was required to furnish a message. Then it was decided
to make it a church benefit. The letters exchanged concerning this
proposition still exist; they explain themselves:
CARSON CITY, January 23, 1864.
GOV. MARK TWAIN, Understanding from certain members of the Third
House of the territorial Legislature that that body will have
effected a permanent organization within a day or two, and be ready
for the reception of your Third Annual Message,--[ There had been
no former message. This was regarded as a great joke.]--we desire
to ask your permission, and that of the Third House, to turn the
affair to the benefit of the Church by charging toll-roads,
franchises, and other persons a dollar apiece for the privilege of
listening to your communication.
G. A. SEARS,
CARSON CITY, January 23, 1864.
GENTLEMEN,--Certainly. If the public can find anything in a grave
state paper worth paying a dollar for, I am willing they should pay
that amount, or any other; and although I am not a very dusty
Christian myself, I take an absorbing interest in religious affairs,
and would willingly inflict my annual message upon the Church itself
if it might derive benefit thereby. You can charge what you please;
I promise the public no amusement, but I do promise a reasonable
amount of instruction. I am responsible to the Third House only,
and I hope to be permitted to make it exceedingly warm for that
body, without caring whether the sympathies of the public and the
Church be enlisted in their favor, and against myself, or not.
Mark Twain's reply is closely related to his later style in phrase and
thought. It might have been written by him at almost any subsequent
period. Perhaps his association with Artemus Ward had awakened a new
perception of the humorous idea--a humor of repression, of
understatement. He forgot this often enough, then and afterward, and
gave his riotous fancy free rein; but on the whole the simpler, less
florid form seemingly began to attract him more and more.
His address as Governor of the Third House has not been preserved, but
those who attended always afterward referred to it as the "greatest
effort of his life." Perhaps for that audience and that time this
verdict was justified.
It was his first great public opportunity. On the stage about him sat
the membership of the Third House; the building itself was packed, the
aisles full. He knew he could let himself go in burlesque and satire,
and he did. He was unsparing in his ridicule of the Governor, the
officials in general, the legislative members, and of individual
citizens. From the beginning to the end of his address the audience was
in a storm of laughter and applause. With the exception of the dinner
speech made to the printers in Keokuk, it was his first public utterance
--the beginning of a lifelong series of triumphs.
Only one thing marred his success. Little Carrie Pixley, daughter of one
of the "trustees," had promised to be present and sit in a box next the
stage. It was like him to be fond of the child, and he had promised to
send a carriage for her. Often during his address he glanced toward the
box; but it remained empty. When the affair was ended, he drove home
with her father to inquire the reason. They found the little girl, in
all her finery, weeping on the bed. Then he remembered he had forgotten
to send the carriage; and that was like him, too.
For his Third House address Judge A. W. (Sandy) Baldwin and Theodore
Winters presented him with a gold watch inscribed to "Governor Mark
Twain." He was more in demand now than ever; no social occasion was
regarded as complete without him. His doings were related daily and his
sayings repeated on the streets. Most of these things have passed away
now, but a few are still recalled with smiles. Once, when conundrums
were being asked at a party, he was urged to make one.
"Well," he sand, "why am I like the Pacific Ocean?"
Several guesses were made, but none satisfied him. Finally all gave it
"Tell us, Mark, why are you like the Pacific Ocean?"
"I don't know," he drawled. "I was just asking for information."
At another time, when a young man insisted on singing a song of eternal
length, the chorus of which was, "I'm going home, I'm going home, I'm
going home tomorrow," Mark Twain put his head in the window and said,
"For God's sake go to-night."
But he was also fond of quieter society. Sometimes, after the turmoil of
a legislative morning, he would drop in to Miss Keziah Clapp's school and
listen to the exercises, or would call on Colonel Curry--"old Curry, old
Abe Curry"--and if the colonel happened to be away, he would talk with
Mrs. Curry, a motherly soul (still alive at ninety-three, in 1910), and
tell her of his Hannibal boyhood or his river and his mining adventures,
and keep her laughing until the tears ran.
He was a great pedestrian in those days. Sometimes he walked from
Virginia to Carson, stopping at Colonel Curry's as he came in for rest
"Mrs. Curry," he said once, "I have seen tireder men than I am, and
lazier men, but they were dead men." He liked the home feeling there--
the peace and motherly interest. Deep down, he was lonely and homesick;
he was always so away from his own kindred.
Clemens returned now to Virginia City, and, like all other men who ever
met her, became briefly fascinated by the charms of Adah Isaacs Menken,
who was playing Mazeppa at the Virginia Opera House. All men--kings,
poets, priests, prize-fighters--fell under Menken's spell. Dan de Quille
and Mark Twain entered into a daily contest as to who could lavish the
most fervid praise on her in the Enterprise. The latter carried her his
literary work to criticize. He confesses this in one of his home
letters, perhaps with a sort of pride.
I took it over to show to Miss Menken the actress, Orpheus C. Ken's wife.
She is a literary cuss herself.
She has a beautiful white hand, but her handwriting is infamous; she
writes fast and her chirography is of the door-plate order--her letters
are immense. I gave her a conundrum, thus:
"My dear madam, why ought your hand to retain its present grace and
beauty always? Because you fool away devilish little of it on your
But Menken was gone presently, and when he saw her again, somewhat later,
in San Francisco, his "madness" would have seemed to have been allayed.