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Tales, Speeches, Essays, and Sketches

Mark Twain

  Table of Contents


  Title Page

  Copyright Page


  Tales, Speeches, Essays, and Sketches

  Letter from Carson City

  Washoe.—“Information Wanted”

  Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog

  The Christmas Fireside

  Barnum’s First Speech in Congress

  Cannibalism in the Cars

  An Awful—Terrible Medieval Romance

  The Tomb of Adam

  Story of the Good Little Boy Who Did Not Prosper

  Map of Paris

  Buck Fanshawe’s Funeral

  The Story of the Old Ram

  Life as I Find It

  Sociable Jimmy

  A True Story, Repeated Word for Word as I Heard It

  An Encounter with an Interviewer

  from Old Times on the Mississippi

  The Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime in Connecticut

  [Date, 1601]. Conversation, as It Was by the Social Fireside, in the Time of ...

  Whittier Birthday Speech

  A Presidential Candidate

  The Babies. As They Comfort Us in Our Sorrows, Let Us Not Forget Them in Our Festivities

  A Cat Tale

  Jim Baker’s Blue Jay Yarn

  The Private History of a Campaign That Failed

  Private History of the “Jumping Frog” Story

  Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar

  Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar

  The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg

  My First Lie and How I Got Out of It

  To the Person Sitting in Darkness

  Corn-Pone Opinions

  A Dog’s Tale

  Eve Speaks

  Seventieth Birthday Speech

  Early Days

  Little Bessie

  “The Turning Point of My Life”

  The Death of Jean

  On Writing and Writers

  Reply to the Editor of “The Art of Authorship”

  What Paul Bourget Thinks of Us

  Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offences

  How to Tell a Story

  William Dean Howells

  My Literary Shipyard




  Samuel Langhome Clemens was born on November 30, 1835, in Florida, Missouri, about forty miles southwest of Hannibal, the Mississippi River town Clemens was to celebrate as Mark Twain. In 1853 he left home, earning a living as an itinerant typesetter, and four years later became an apprentice pilot on the Mississippi, a career cut short by the outbreak of the Civil War. For five years, as a prospector and a journalist, Clemens lived in Nevada and California. In February 1863 he first used the pseudonym “Mark Twain,” as the signature to a humorous travel letter; and a trip to Europe and the Holy Land in 1867 became the basis of his first major book, The Innocents Abroad (1869). Roughing It (1872), his account of experiences in the West, was followed by a satirical novel, The Gilded Age (1873), Sketches: New and Old (1875), Tom Sawyer (1876), A Tramp Abroad (1880), The Prince and the Pauper (1882), Life on the Mississippi (1883), and his masterpiece, Huckleberry Finn (1885). Following the publication of A Connecticut Yankee (1889) and Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894), Twain was compelled by debts to move his family abroad. By 1900 he had completed a round-the-world lecture tour, and, his fortunes mended, he returned to America. He was as celebrated for his white suit and his mane of white hair as he was for his uncompromising stands against injustice and imperialism and for his invariably quoted comments on any subject under the sun. Samuel Clemens died on April 21, 1910.

  TOM QUIRK is currently the Catherine Paine Middlebush Professor of English at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He is the author of Melville’s Confidence Man (1982), Bergson and American Culture (1990), and Coming to Grips with Huckleberry Finn (1993). He has edited or co-edited several volumes of criticism on American literature, including Writing the American Classics (1990) and Realism and the Canon (1994).


  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Books USA Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.

  Penguin Books Ltd, 27 Wrights Lane, London W8 5TZ, England

  Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Ringwood, Victoria, Australia

  Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2

  Penguin Books (N.Z.) Ltd, 182-190 Wairau Road, Auckland 10, New Zealand

  Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England

  First published in Penguin Books 1994

  Copyright © Tom Quirk, 1994

  All rights reserved

  Grateful acknowledgment is made for permission to reprint the following copyrighted works:

  “Letter from Carson City” and “Washoe.—‘Information Wanted’ ” from Early Tales and Sketches, Vol. 1, 1851-1864 and “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog” and “The Christmas Fireside: The Story of the Bad Little Boy That Bore a Charmed Life” from Early Tales and Sketches, Vol. 2, 1864-1865 edited by Edgar Branch. Copyright © 1979, 1981 Mark Twain Foundation. Selections from Roughing It edited by Franklin Rogers. Copyright © 1972 Mark Twain Company. “Corn-Pone Opinions” and “The Turning Point of My Life” from What Is Man? and Other Philosophical Writings edited by Paul Baender. Copyright © 1973 Mark Twain Company. “Little Bessie” from Fables of Man edited by John Tuckey. Copyright © 1972 Mark Twain Company. By permission of the publisher, the University of California Press.

  “A Cat’s Tale” from Letters from the Earth edited by Bernard De Voto. Copyright 1938, 1944, 1946, 1959, 1962 by Mark Twain Company. Copyright renewed. “Eve Speaks” from Europe and Elsewhere edited by Albert Bigelow Paine. Copyright 1923 by Mark Twain Company, renewed 1951 by Mark Twain Company. .


  Twain, Mark, 1835-1910.

  Tales, speeches, essays, and sketches/Mark Twain; edited and

  with an introduction by Tom Quirk.

  p. cm.

  Includes bibliographical references.

  eISBN : 978-1-440-67389-4

  I. Quirk, Tom, 1946-. II. Title.

  PS1302.Q57 1994

  818’.409—dc20 94-5815


  When Samuel L. Clemens published “Letter from Carson City” in 1863, he signed the sketch “Mark Twain.” Clemens had adopted pen names before—“W. Epaminondas Adrastus Per-kins,” “Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass,” “Josh”—but this was the first time he used the name that would eventually become a registered trademark and a universally recognized literary identity. It was a fateful gesture. Much of the experience that Clemens would use in his later fiction was already behind him, but his career as a professional “literary person” (as he one time described his almost accidental occupation as a writer) largely lay before him. Sam Clemens had been places and seen things; by his own admission, his early adult life consisted of a string of apprenticeships and misdirected ambitions. “Mark Twain” took the boy in tow. He offered a young journalist’s perceptions a point and his wit a barb; he gave a mature man’s memories of childhood a literary shape and solidity; he transformed a personal delight in the joke, the hoax, and general mischief-making into a moral point of view; he offered an old man the bitter solace of philosophy. For the persona that was “Mark Twain” was something more than a mere literary device; it became a means of being in the world and of speaking to that world in ways that Clemens might not venture in his own person. />
  In part, Samuel Clemens had fame, or at least celebrity, thrust upon him. He sent his jumping frog story east to Artemus Ward in 1865 to be included in a collection Ward was assembling, but the tale he had heard (along with so many others) in a California mining camp and had cast in the familiar mode of the frame tale arrived too late for inclusion. It was published instead in the Saturday Press the same year. The story was an instant success and widely reprinted, and its creator thereafter became a figure of some interest. Inevitably, the “Mark Twain” available to us now is a diminished presence, however much we instinctively feel ourselves to be his familiar acquaintance.

  In his own day, Twain was primarily known as a public personality who also happened to be a writer. The public knew him equally through his lectures and readings, through the more than 300 interviews he granted to intrepid reporters, and through the frequent accounts of his doings and sayings in newspapers and magazines. A whole generation grew up with Mark Twain as a living voice and a responsive and frequently outrageous and outraged critic of the times. Though he spent much of his adult life abroad, as George Ade rightly observed, Americans typically thought of him not as an expatriate but as their trustworthy emissary to the world at large. When he died in 1910, much of the country mourned the loss of a genial companion.

  Since that time readers and critics have tried to define Twain’s significance to American literary culture, to analyze his multiform and largely elusive personality, to somehow recapture the distinctive flavor of his humorous idiom, and to describe the mechanics of his wit. Unlike, say, Herman Melville, whose deep-diving imagination is so aptly linked to the sea, there is nothing especially deep about Twain. Like the Mississippi River itself, he is intricate, shifty, and sometimes treacherous, driven by some strong current of earnestness or indignation; he is complicated, but he is not profound. In an essay written for Harper’s and titled simply “William Dean Howells,” Twain identified the qualities he envied in his friend, and many of them he could claim as his own. But Howells’s easy prose, “unconfused by cross-currents, eddies, undertows,” was not his. It is true that Twain made it his business to have a point and to get to it as unmistakably and forthrightly as possible, but even so, there is nearly always a sly wrinkle or unanticipated snag likely to catch us by surprise. Witness this letter written in 1907 to the editor of the New York Times:

  To the Editor

  Sir to you, I would like to know what kind of a goddam govment this is that discriminates between two common carriers and makes a goddam railroad charge everybody equal & lets a goddam man charge any goddam price he wants to for his goddam opera box.

  W. D. Howells

  Tuxedo Park Oct 4

  Howells it is an outrage the way the govment is acting so I sent this complaint to N. Y. Times with your name signed because it would have more weight.


  The selections gathered together here are meant to give a comprehensive if somewhat uneven sense of the vast range of Mark Twain’s short fiction and prose, to disclose not merely the variety of his imaginative invention and diverse talents but the range of his emotional condition as well. As if by instinct, he seems to have been naturally adept in virtually every prose genre—the fable, the sketch, the tale, the anecdote, the maxim, the philosophical dialogue, the essay, the speech—and to have understood generic requirements sufficiently to burlesque and satirize them as well. (His “An Awful—Terrible Medieval Romance” was in the tradition of such popular burlesques that parodied the popular romance in only 500 to 2,500 words; and he indulged in the well-known burlesques of popular poetry and the Shakespearean soliloquy in Huckleberry Finn.) At the same time, his imagination seemed always to outrun literary conventions and accepted forms, as though formal discipline were inimical to thought and expression and unequal to the many moods that motivated him to write. He mastered the frame tale—a form featuring a story within a story—of the Southwestern humorists easily, but this same form that played upon the comic contrasts between genteel refinement and vernacular coarseness acquired a sudden seriousness when he adapted it to the poignant and accusing story of the former slave Aunt Rachel in “A True Story.” At any rate, these selections are not designed to give any unitary picture of the man or his work.

  It is tempting to describe Clemens’s career as an arc, a slow ascent to a perfect mastery of his craft and then a falling off. By this view he is to be seen as a rough, untutored, slightly reckless humorist who by degrees acquired the literary sophistication and confidence to produce one exquisite novel, Huckleberry Finn (1884), and, likewise by degrees, who gradually turned bitter, polemical, and churlish and permitted his fiction to suffer the depletions he felt as a man until he was unable to produce anything more interesting than quasi-philosophical dialogues or false starts toward extended narratives that were ill conceived to begin with. There is more than a grain of truth in this depiction; it is far more appealing, however, to those who assume that the mark of a writer of distinction resides chiefly in the capacity to produce the novel, not the tale, the essay, or the sketch. But Mark Twain’s imagination was constitutionally unruly and eruptive. For that reason, he often worked most coherently if not most memorably in short compass.

  In his “Reply to the Editor of ‘The Art of Authorship,’ ” Twain compared his own unsconscious and associative creative process to bricklaying. Though the remark refers to the making of individual sentences and the all but unconscious acquisition of a literary “style,” the figure applies as well to those discrete compositional blocks that make up so many of his extended narratives. Twain often casually interpolated self-sufficient episodes, tales, and sketches into his books, sometimes without supplying even a flimsy excuse for doing so, and some of these were detachable enough to move from one book to another. Whatever formal integrity critics have been able to discern in Twain’s novels and travel books, they remain nevertheless highly episodic narratives, a series of adventures or journeys more often held together by narrative sensibility or a travel itinerary than by sure and comprehensive artistic purpose. Little wonder that he preferred Cervantes to Jane Austen.

  It is certain, at any rate, that Twain’s short fiction and prose better exhibit his volatile temperament and erratic genius than do the novels, even if they complicate a familiar portrait of the writer. “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg,” perhaps the most formally perfect of his tales, follows relentlessly its own cynical logic, to the enormous and practically debilitating discredit of the American village and the moral and democratic values it so sanctimoniously symbolizes. The story was published in 1899 and epitomizes the dark brooding of the late Twain, though he was destined to have darker moments still. A few years later, however, he published “Early Days” (a “chapter” from his ongoing Autobiography), with its litany of recollected pleasures experienced in his native Missouri. However penetrating his analysis of the false virtues of Hadleyburg, to turn to that tale after reading his description of dinnertime at his uncle’s farm is to experience a certain sensory deprivation:

  In the summer the table was set in the middle of that shady and breezy floor, and the sumptuous meals—well, it makes me cry to think of them. Fried chicken, roast pig, wild and tame turkeys, ducks and geese; venison just killed; squirrels, rabbits, pheasants, partridges, prairie-chickens; biscuits, hot batter cakes, hot buckwheat cakes, hot “wheat bread,” hot rolls, hot corn pone; fresh corn boiled on the ear, succotash, butter beans, string-beans, tomatoes, pease, Irish potatoes, sweet-potatoes; butter-milk, sweet milk, “clabber”; water-melons, muskmelons, cantaloups—all fresh from the garden—apple pie, peach pie, pumpkin pie, apple dumplings, peach cobbler—I can’t remember the rest.

  Have butter beans ever appeared in better company? And can there be any doubt that Twain’s ability to summon from the resources of his memory the rich advantages and pleasures of youth was a form of personal indulgence and the ecstatic privilege of his creative imagination?

  W. D. Howells once observed the appar
ent lack of design in Mark Twain’s method of composing. He drew from the “divine ragbag” of his mind whatever it offered and left it to the reader to discern the relevancies and sequences. “It is imaginable that he pursues [this creative method] from no wish but to have pleasure of his work, and not to fatigue either himself or his reader; and his method may be the secret of his vast popularity.” Twain more than once represented himself as the “amanuensis” of his creative imagination, and he confessed in an 1883 letter how personally satisfying the work was when the writing was going well: “I used to restrict myself to 4 & 5 hours a day & 5 days in the week; but this time I’ve wrought from breakfast till 5:15 p.m. six days in the week; & once or twice I smouched a Sunday when the boss wasn’t looking. Nothing is half so good as literature hooked on Sunday on the sly.” The “literature” he was hooking was not what he was reading but the fiction that was taking shape under his hand.

  It is that same happy submission to the spontaneous and immanent terms of the tale to be told, the remembered scene to be summoned and described, the emotion to be recast under the friendly auspices of nostalgia—all with the audacious flair of inconsequence—that is so often imparted to his readers, as though we were co-partners in creation. These are the vital qualities so vividly conveyed in the opening chapters of “Old Times on the Mississippi,” but they are features of his humor as well. It was the confidently spontaneous quality in Twain that Howells (still his most cordial and astute critic) characterized as his “fine, forecasting humor,” a willingness to stand so far back from comic effect that “one, knowing some joke must be coming, feels that nothing less than a prophetic instinct can sustain the humorist in its development.” Again, the observation is corroborated by Twain himself. In “How to Tell a Story,” he insists that the truly American humorous story relies upon the manner of the telling, not the matter of the tale told: “The humorous story may be spun out to great length, and may wander around as much as it pleases, and arrive nowhere in particular; but the comic and witty stories must be brief and end with a point. The humorous story bubbles gently along, the others burst.”