Home  »  Volume XVII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II  »  § 5. Journalist and Lecturer

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

VIII. Mark Twain

§ 5. Journalist and Lecturer

That his claims did not “pan out” well is clear from his accepting in 1862 a position as local reporter for the Virginia City Enterprise at twenty-five dollars a week, having commended himself to the editor by a series of letters signed “Josh.” Thus began his literary career. In reporting for this paper the sessions of the Legislature at Carson City he first employed the signature “Mark Twain,” a name previously used by a pilot-correspondent of the New Orleans Picayune but ultimately commemorating the leadsman’s cry on the Mississippi. His effervescent spirits, excited by the stirring and heroically convivial life of a community of pioneers, found easy outlet in the robust humour and slashing satire of frontier journalism. In 1863 Artemus Ward spent three glorious weeks revelling with the newspaper men in Virginia City, recognized the talent of Mark Twain, and encouraged him to send his name eastward with a contribution to the New York Sunday Mercury. A duel occasioned by some journalistic vivacities resulted in his migration in 1864 to San Francisco, where in 1864 and 1865 he wrote for The Morning Call, The Golden Era, and The Californian; and fraternized with the brilliant young coterie of which Bret Harte was recognized as the most conspicuous light. In a pocket-hunting excursion in January, 1865, he picked up a very few nuggets and the nucleus for the story of Jim Smiley and his Jumping Frog, which appeared in the New York Saturday Press in November and swiftly attained wide celebrity. In the following spring he visited the Sandwich Islands on a commission from the Sacramento Union, called upon his first king, explored the crater of Kilauea, struck up a friendship with the American ministers to China and Japan, and made a great “scoop” by interviewing a group of shipwrecked sailors in the hospital at Honolulu. Later he wrote up the story for Harper’s Magazine; his appearance there in 1866 he calls his dèbut as a literary person.

Returning to San Francisco, he made his first appearance as a humorous lecturer in a discourse on the Sandwich Islands, delivered with his sober, inimitable, irresistible drawl to a crowded and applausive house on the evening of 2 October, 1866. From this point his main course was determined. Realizing that he had a substantial literary capital, he set out to invest it so that it would in every sense of the word yield the largest returns obtainable. To the enterprise of purveying literary entertainment he, first in America, applied the wideranging vision and versatile talents of our modern men of action and captains of industry: collecting his “raw material,” distributing it around the world from the lecture platform, sending it to the daily press, reworking it into book form, inventing his own type-setting machinery, and controlling his own printing, publishing, and selling agencies. He did not foresee this all in 1866; but it must have begun to dawn.