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Mark Twain

Mark Twain

Mark Twain: San Francisco & Roughing It

Mark Twain's Civil War was a rather short one; he trained for two weeks with a Confederate militia which then disbanded, ending his military career. In 1862, his older brother Orion was offered a job as the personal secretary to the territorial governor of Nevada. He asked Twain if he would like to come along as his assistant, and Twain jumped at the chance. "I had never been away from home, and that word 'travel' had a seductive charm for me,"10 Twain wrote in his memoir Roughing It. The brothers journeyed together to Nevada in a stagecoach, enduring several long, uncomfortable weeks on rough roads. After some hilariously unsuccessful attempts to cash in on Nevada's silver boom, Twain realized that mining might not be the job for him. He instead took a job as city editor for the Virginia City (Nev.) Daily Territorial Enterprise. As a cub reporter, Twain later recalled, he "let fancy get the upper hand of fact too often."11 When the news was slow, he often just made stories up.

After circumstances forced him to leave Nevada—some messy business involving the state's dueling laws—he moved west, traveling through northern California and settling in San Francisco. His travels inspired the short story "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog" (later known as "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calavaras County") which was published in 1865 in the New York Saturday Press. The story was a tall tale about a man listening to a tall tale, and it was a huge success. Twain was honing his skills as a storyteller, and in doing so he helped to define the American sense of humor. "To string incongruities and absurdities together in a wandering and sometimes purposeless way, and seem innocently unaware that they are absurdities, is the basis of the American art,"12 he later said.

Twain later traveled to Hawaii as a reporter for the Alta California and then to Europe. On the journey abroad, he noticed a framed photograph of a fellow passenger's sister, a woman named Olivia "Livy" Langdon, and insisted on meeting her when they returned to the U.S. He did, and was instantly smitten. In 1870 he married her. Twain had rather progressive views of women and marriage for his time, believing that a woman should be an equal partner to her husband, instead of subservient ("I don't want to sleep with a threefold being who is a cook, chambermaid, and washer woman all in one,"13 he said.) Twain was devoted to his wife, who became an important editor of his work. "I never wrote a serious word until after I married Mrs. Clemens," he later said. "She is solely responsible—to her should go the credit—for any influence my subsequent work should exert. After my marriage, she edited everything I wrote."14 He even tried going to church to please his religious wife, but that didn't last very long.

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