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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol I, Part 2: 1866 - 1875|
LIX. The First Book
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|With the shadow of the Cooper Institute so happily dispelled, The
Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and his following of Other
Sketches, became a matter of more interest. The book was a neat blue-
and-gold volume printed by John A. Gray & Green, the old firm for which
the boy, Sam Clemens, had set type thirteen years before. The title-page
bore Webb's name as publisher, with the American News Company as selling
agents. It further stated that the book was edited by "John Paul," that
is to say by Webb himself. The dedication was in keeping with the
general irresponsible character of the venture. It was as follows:
WHOM I HAVE KNOWN IN DIVERS AND SUNDRY
PLACES ABOUT THE WORLD, AND WHOSE
MANY AND MANIFOLD VIRTUES DID
ALWAYS COMMAND MY ESTEEM,
I DEDICATE THIS BOOK
It is said that the man to whom a volume is dedicated always buys a copy.
If this prove true in the present instance, a princely affluence is about
to burst upon
The "advertisement" stated that the author had "scaled the heights of
popularity at a single jump, and won for himself the sobriquet of the
'Wild Humorist of the Pacific Slope'; furthermore, that he was known to
fame as the 'Moralist of the Main,'" and that as such he would be likely
to go down to posterity, adding that it was in his secondary character,
as humorist, rather than in his primal one of moralist, that the volume
aimed to present him.--[The advertisement complete, with extracts from
the book, may be found under Appendix E, at the end of last volume.]
Every little while, during the forty years or more that have elapsed
since then, some one has come forward announcing Mark Twain to be as much
a philosopher as a humorist, as if this were a new discovery. But it was
a discovery chiefly to the person making the announcement. Every one who
ever knew Mark Twain at any period of his life made the same discovery.
Every one who ever took the trouble to familiarize himself with his work
made it. Those who did not make it have known his work only by hearsay
and quotation, or they have read it very casually, or have been very
dull. It would be much more of a discovery to find a book in which he
has not been serious--a philosopher, a moralist, and a poet. Even in the
Jumping Frog sketches, selected particularly for their inconsequence, the
under-vein of reflection and purpose is not lacking. The answer to Moral
Statistician--[In "Answers to Correspondents," included now in Sketches
New and Old. An extract from it, and from "A Strange Dream," will be
found in Appendix E.]--is fairly alive with human wisdom and righteous
wrath. The "Strange Dream," though ending in a joke, is aglow with
poetry. Webb's "advertisement" was playfully written, but it was
earnestly intended, and he writes Mark Twain down a moralist--not as a
discovery, but as a matter of course. The discoveries came along later,
when the author's fame as a humorist had dazzled the nations.
It is as well to say it here as anywhere, perhaps, that one reason why
Mark Twain found it difficult to be accepted seriously was the fact that
his personality was in itself so essentially humorous. His physiognomy,
his manner of speech, this movement, his mental attitude toward events--
all these were distinctly diverting. When we add to this that his medium
of expression was nearly always full of the quaint phrasing and those
surprising appositions which we recognize as amusing, it is not so
astonishing that his deeper, wiser, more serious purpose should be
overlooked. On the whole these unabated discoverers serve a purpose, if
only to make the rest of their species look somewhat deeper than the
The little blue-and-gold volume which presented the Frog story and
twenty-six other sketches in covers is chiefly important to-day as being
Mark Twain's first book. The selections in it were made for a public
that had been too busy with a great war to learn discrimination, and most
of them have properly found oblivion. Fewer than a dozen of them were
included in his collected Sketches issued eight years later, and some
even of those might have been spared; also some that were added, for that
matter; but detailed literary criticism is not the province of this work.
The reader may investigate and judge for himself.
Clemens was pleased with the appearance of his book. To Bret Harte he
The book is out and it is handsome. It is full of damnable errors of
grammar and deadly inconsistencies of spelling in the Frog sketch,
because I was away and did not read proofs; but be a friend and say
nothing about these things. When my hurry is over, I will send you a
copy to pisen the children with.
That he had no exaggerated opinion of the book's contents or prospects we
may gather from his letter home:
As for the Frog book, I don't believe it will ever pay anything worth a
cent. I published it simply to advertise myself, and not with the hope
of making anything out of it.
He had grown more lenient in his opinion of the merits of the Frog story
itself since it had made friends in high places, especially since James
Russell Lowell had pronounced it "the finest piece of humorous writing
yet produced in America"; but compared with his lecture triumph, and his
prospective journey to foreign seas, his book venture, at best, claimed
no more than a casual regard. A Sandwich Island book (he had collected
his Union letters with the idea of a volume) he gave up altogether after
one unsuccessful offer of it to Dick & Fitzgerald.
Frank Fuller's statement, that the fame had arrived, had in it some
measure of truth. Lecture propositions came from various directions.
Thomas Nast, then in the early day of his great popularity, proposed a
joint tour, in which Clemens would lecture, while he, Nast, illustrated
the remarks with lightning caricatures. But the time was too short; the
Quaker City would sail on the 8th of June, and in the mean time the Alta
correspondent was far behind with his New York letters. On May 29th he
I am 18 Alta letters behind, and I must catch up or bust. I have refused
all invitations to lecture. Don't know how my book is coming on.
He worked like a slave for a week or so, almost night and day, to clean
up matters before his departure. Then came days of idleness and
reaction-days of waiting, during which his natural restlessness and the
old-time regret for things done and undone, beset him.
My passage is paid, and if the ship sails I sail on her; but I make
no calculations, have bought no cigars, no sea-going clothing--have
made no preparations whatever--shall not pack my trunk till the
morning we sail.
All I do know or feel is that I am wild with impatience to move--
move--move! Curse the endless delays! They always kill me--they
make me neglect every duty, and then I have a conscience that tears
me like a wild beast. I wish I never had to stop anywhere a month.
I do more mean things the moment I get a chance to fold my hands and
sit down than ever I get forgiveness for.
Yes, we are to meet at Mr. Beach's next Thursday night, and I
suppose we shall have to be gotten up regardless of expense, in
swallow-tails, white kids and everything 'en regle'.
I am resigned to Rev. Mr. Hutchinson's or anybody else's
supervision. I don't mind it. I am fixed. I have got a splendid,
immoral, tobacco-smoking, wine-drinking, godless roommate who is as
good and true and right-minded a man as ever lived--a man whose
blameless conduct and example will always be an eloquent sermon to
all who shall come within their influence. But send on the
professional preachers--there are none I like better to converse
with; if they're not narrowminded and bigoted they make good
The "splendid immoral room-mate" was Dan Slote--"Dan," of The Innocents,
a lovable character--all as set down. Samuel Clemens wrote one more
letter to his mother and sister--a conscience-stricken, pessimistic
letter of good-by written the night before sailing. Referring to the
Alta letters he says:
I think they are the stupidest letters ever written from New York.
Corresponding has been a perfect drag ever since I got to the
States. If it continues abroad, I don't know what the Tribune and
Alta folk will think.
He remembers Orion, who had been officially eliminated when Nevada had
I often wonder if his law business is going satisfactorily. I wish
I had gone to Washington in the winter instead of going West. I
could have gouged an office out of Bill Stewart for him, and that
would have atoned for the loss of my home visit. But I am so
worthless that it seems to me I never do anything or accomplish
anything that lingers in my mind as a pleasant memory. My mind is
stored full of unworthy conduct toward Orion and toward you all, and
an accusing conscience gives me peace only in excitement and
restless moving from place to place. If I could only say I had done
one thing for any of you that entitled me to your good opinions (I
say nothing of your love, for I am sure of that, no matter how
unworthy of it I may make myself--from Orion down, you have always
given me that; all the days of my life, when God Almighty knows I
have seldom deserved it), I believe I could go home and stay there--
and I know I would care little for the world's praise or blame.
There is no satisfaction in the world's praise anyhow, and it has no
worth to me save in the way of business. I tried to gather up its
compliments to send you, but the work was distasteful and I dropped
You observe that under a cheerful exterior I have got a spirit that
is angry with me and gives me freely its contempt. I can get away
from that at sea, and be tranquil and satisfied; and so, with my
parting love and benediction for Orion and all of you, I say good-by
and God bless you all-and welcome the wind that wafts a weary soul
to the sunny lands of the Mediterranean!