Discover more from SOME RAMBLING NOTES FROM A 21st CENTURY GEEZER
THE ADVENTURES OF MARK TWAIN
As Told By Himself (Audio Recordings and Text of my Performance as Mark Twain)
The following are audio recordings followed by the text of my stage performance as Mark Twain, set in 1896. Twain had returned to the lecture circuit at the age of sixty due to financial reversals (mainly as a result of bad investments he had made). You can listen to the performance, read it below, or read it while you listen to it.
THE ADVENTURES OF MARK TWAIN
Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen! The lecture will be delivered this afternoon by Mark Twain, a gentleman whose high moral character and unimpeachable integrity are only surpassed by his natural modesty and sweetness of disposition. I refer in these general terms to myself, for I am the party (I was obliged to excuse the chairman from introducing me, because he never compliments anybody and I knew I could do it just as well without forgetting any of the particulars).
Besides, you never know what a person is going to say when they introduce you. For example, about 30 years ago, when I was just starting on the lecture circuit, I was in the mining camp of Red Dog up around Grass Valley. There I was introduced by an old miner who was pressed into service; he tried to get away, but they caught him and pushed him up on the stage. All he said about me was this: “I only know two things about this man: one is that he’s never been in the penitentiary, and the other is that I can’t imagine why not.”
And so now I play it safe and introduce myself.
I had intended to tell only the truth this afternoon, but I may have already misled you; I must now confess to you that 'Mark Twain' is not my real name...my parents, John and Jane Clemens, gave me the name Samuel; I didn’t become Mark Twain, as it were, until 1863.
I was born in 1835 in Florida…Florida, Missouri, that is. I don’t remember much about that little village, though, because we moved away from there when I was just 3 years old, to Hannibal, on the Mississippi River. Hannibal was a new town when we moved there, and growing. In fact, when I was a boy, it became the second largest place in Missouri, the only larger one being St. Louis downriver, which had about 30,000 inhabitants at the time. St. Louis was not only the largest city in Missouri, but the largest city west of the Mississippi.
Back in Florida I had been born prematurely; frail, sickly. When a neighbor lady came visiting soon after I was born, she looked at me in my crib, then turned to my mother and said, “You don’t expect to raise that babe, do you?” My mother allowed she would try.
Not long ago, I asked my mother, “I suppose that during all that time you were uneasy about me?”
“Yes, the whole time” she admitted.
“Afraid I wouldn’t live?”
She seemed to consider for a while, then said, “No – afraid you would.”
It may seem that I did my best to not survive my childhood; I almost drowned 9 times while we lived in Hannibal, mostly in the Mississippi, but a few times in Bear Creek, too; my mother wasn't overly concerned about it; she said, "People born to hang are safe in the water."
Hannibal was a good place to grow up; it certainly was an interesting place, anyway, with many fascinating characters. Most of the events in Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn actually did happen in and around Hannibal, and the characters in those books of mine were people I knew, people I grew up with. Of course, I changed their names; Laura Hawkins became Becky Thatcher, Tom Blankinship became Huckleberry Finn, etc. The town itself became St. Petersburg in those books.
But eventually, I felt the need to light out on my own; I was ambitious and adventurous, and I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere working in newspaper offices around Hannibal as a “printer’s devil” (apprentice printer). So, I decided to go to the Amazon and become a coca magnate.
This was back in 1854, when I was 18 years old. You see, I had just read a new U.S. government report, and I had been mightily attracted by what the report had to say about coca. I read that this was a “vegetable product with miraculous powers to sustain and nourish life, so nourishing and strength-giving that the natives there…would tramp up-hill and down all day on a pinch … and require no other sustenance.”
So I made up my mind to go to the headwaters of the Amazon and collect coca and trade in it and make a fortune. I left for New Orleans with this great idea filling my mind. One of the pilots of the Paul Jones on which I had taken passage was a man named Horace Bixby. Little by little I got acquainted with him, and pretty soon I was doing a lot of steering for him on his daylight watches.
When I got to New Orleans I inquired about ships leaving for the Amazon and discovered that there weren’t any, and learned that there probably wouldn’t be any during that century. It had not occurred to me to inquire into these particulars before, so there I was. I couldn’t go to the Amazon. I had no friends in New Orleans and no money to speak of.
So I went to Horace Bixby and asked him to make a pilot out of me. He said he would do it for five hundred dollars – one hundred cash in advance, and then $400 out of my first earnings once I became a licensed pilot and started earning wages – you see, “cubs” (apprentice pilots) didn’t receive wages, just board – a place to sleep, and food to eat – and that only when we were on the ship. When we were ashore, we were on our own – had to get odd jobs, such as guarding freight at the levee, to keep body and soul together. Anyway, I steered for Bixby up to St. Louis, borrowed the $100 from my sister Pamela’s husband, and closed the bargain with my new chief.
I entered upon the enterprise of learning twelve or thirteen hundred miles of the great Mississippi River with the easy confidence of my time of life. If I had really known what I was about to require of my faculties, I should not have had the courage to begin. I supposed that all a pilot had to do was to keep his boat in the river, and I did not consider that could be much of a trick, since it was so wide.
When we left New Orleans, the boat backed out at four in the afternoon, and it was our watch until eight. Mr. Bixby straightened her up, plowed her along past the sterns of the other boats that lay at the Levee, and then said, 'Here, take her; shave those steamships as close as you'd peel an apple.' I took the wheel, and my heartbeat fluttered up into the hundreds — for it seemed to me that we were about to scrape the side off every ship in the line, we were so close.
I held my breath and began to claw the boat away from the danger; and I had my own opinion of the pilot who had known no better than to get us into such peril, but I was too wise to express it. In half a minute I had a wide margin of safety intervening between the Paul Jones and the other ships; and within ten seconds more I was set aside in disgrace, and Mr. Bixby was going into danger again and flaying me alive with abuse of my cowardice.
I was stung, but I was obliged to admire the easy manner with which my chief loafed from side to side of his wheel, and trimmed the ships so closely that disaster seemed ceaselessly imminent.
When he had cooled a little, Mr. Bixby told me that the easy water was close ashore and the current outside, and therefore we must hug the bank, up-stream, to get the benefit of the former, and stay well out, down-stream, to take advantage of the latter. In my own mind, I resolved to be a down-stream pilot and leave the up-streaming to people dead to prudence.
Now and then Mr. Bixby called my attention to certain things. He said, “This is Six-Mile Point.” I assented. It was pleasant enough information, but I could not see the bearing of it. I was not conscious that it was a matter of any interest to me. Another time he said, “This is Nine-Mile Point.” Later he said, “This is Twelve-Mile Point.” They all looked about alike to me; they were monotonously unpicturesque. I hoped Mr. Bixby would change the subject. But no…he gave me the wheel once or twice, but I had no luck. I either came near chipping off the edge of a sugar plantation, or I yawed too far from shore, and so dropped back into disgrace again and got abused.
The watch ended at last, and we took supper and went to bed. At midnight the glare of a lantern shone in my eyes, and the night watchman said, “Come! turn out!”
And then he left. I could not understand this extraordinary procedure; so I presently gave up trying to, and dozed back off to sleep. Pretty soon the watchman was back again, and this time he was gruff. I was annoyed. I said, “What do you want to come bothering around here in the middle of the night for? Now as like as not I'll not get to sleep again tonight.”
The watchman said, “Well, if this an't good, I'm blest.”
The off-watch was just turning in, and I heard some brutal laughter from them, and such remarks as “Hello, watchman! ain't the new cub turned out yet? He's delicate, likely. Give him some sugar in a rag and send for the chambermaid to sing rock-a-bye-baby to him.”
About this time Mr. Bixby appeared on the scene. Something like a minute later I was climbing the pilot-house steps with some of my clothes on and the rest in my arms. Mr. Bixby was close behind, commenting.
Here was something fresh--this thing of getting up in the middle of the night to go to work. It was a detail in piloting that had never occurred to me at all. I knew that boats ran all night, but somehow I had never happened to reflect that somebody had to get up out of a warm bed to run them. I began to fear that piloting was not quite so romantic as I had imagined it was; there was something very real and work-like about this new phase of it.
Eventually, Bixby began to examine me: “What's the name of the first point above New Orleans?”
I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didn't know.
This manner jolted me. I was down at the foot again, in a moment. But I had to say just what I had said before.
“Well, you're a smart one. What's the name of the next point?”
Once more I didn't know.
“Well, this beats anything. Tell me the name of any point or place I told you.”
I studied a while and decided that I couldn't.
“Look here! Where do you start out from, above Twelve-Mile Point, to cross over?”
“You--you--don't know?” he echoed, mimicking my drawling manner of speech. “What do you know?”
“I--I--nothing, for certain.”
“By the great Caesar's ghost, I believe you! You're the stupidest dunderhead I ever saw or ever heard of, so help me Moses! The idea of you being a pilot--you! Why, you don't know enough to pilot a cow down a lane.”
Oh, but his wrath was up! He was a nervous man, and he shuffled from one side of his wheel to the other as if the floor was hot. He would boil a while to himself, and then overflow and scald me again.
“Look here! What do you suppose I told you the names of those points for?”
I considered a moment, and then the devil of temptation provoked me to say, “Well--to--to--be entertaining, I thought.”
I eventually became a good average pilot, got my license, and earned quite a nice living at it for some years. But the long dreaded event came at last - the war between the states. Commercial traffic on the river ceased – I was out of a job!
In an attempt to avoid being pressed into service by either side, I took passage on a boat north, back to Hannibal – in fact, The Nebraska was the last passenger ship allowed up the Mississippi from St. Louis until after the war. But I did end up getting involved in the war, in a small way, for a short while. This is what happened:
Missouri was a slave state, but it never seceded from the Union. That being so, the soldiers stationed in Hannibal – and there were many – were Union soldiers, and I had to keep away from them and out of sight if I didn’t want to be pressed into service as a pilot on a warship, where I would be a target to get shot at by soldiers and snipers on the riverbanks. Not that I would have minded that so much, but I would rather volunteer than be drafted, and hadn’t quite yet made up my mind which side I preferred to die for.
Eventually, I did make a choice, and in the earliest summer days of the war, I slipped out of Hannibal one night with a friend, to join an army detachment nearby. I was made 2nd Lieutenant of a company of eleven men, who knew nothing about war.
[ part 2 ]
My friend Ben Tupper, who was 19 years old, 6 ft high, 3 feet wide, and some distance through, and just out of the infant school, was made orderly sergeant. He had a hard time. When he was mounted and on the march, he used to go to sleep, and his horse would reach around and bite him on the leg, and then he would wake up and cry and curse, and want to go home.
He was town-bred and did not seem to have any correct idea of military discipline. If I commanded him to shut up, he would say, “Who was your slave last year?” One evening I ordered him to ride out about three miles on picket duty, to the beginning of a prairie. He said, “What!—in the night!-and them blamed Union soldiers likely to be prowling around there any time!” So he wouldn’t go, and the next morning I ordered him again. He said, “In the rain!” He didn’t go. The next day I ordered him on picket duty once more. This time he looked hurt. He said, “What! On Sunday?—you must be a derned fool!” Well, picketing might have been a very good thing, but I saw it was impracticable, so I dropped it from my military system.
We had a good enough time camping out there in the fields and woods, until one day we heard that the invader was approaching, so we had to pack up and move, of course, and within 24 hours he was coming again. So we moved again. The next day they were after us once more. Well, we didn’t like it much, but we moved, rather than make trouble (I later found out it was U.S. Grant and his men who was chasing us around like that – a man I would come to know quite well under much different circumstances some decades later).
Anyway, this went on for a week or ten days more, and we saw considerable scenery. Then Ben Tupper lost patience. He said, “War ain’t what it’s cracked up to be; I’m going home if I can’t ever get a chance to sit down a minute. Why do these people keep us a-humpin’ around so? Blame their skins, do they think this is an excursion?”
Some of the other town boys got to grumbling. They complained that there was an insufficiency of umbrellas. So I sent around to the farmers and borrowed what I could. Then they complained that the Worcestershire sauce was out. There was mutiny and dissatisfaction all around—and, of course, here come the enemy pestering us again ... as much as two hours before breakfast, too, when nobody wanted to turn out, of course.
This was a little too much. The whole command felt insulted. I detached one of my aides and sent him to the brigadier, and asked him to assign us a district where there wasn’t so much bother going on. The history of our campaign was laid before him, but instead of being touched by it, what did he do? He sent back an indignant message and said, “You have had a dozen chances inside of two weeks to capture the enemy, and he is still at large.” [Well, we knew that]. “Feeling bad? Stay where you are this time, or I will court-martial and hang the whole lot of you.”
Well, I submitted this brutal message to my battalion and asked their advice. The orderly sergeant said, “If Tom Harris wants the enemy, let him come and get ‘em. I ain’t got any use for my share, and who’s Tom Harris anyway, I’d like to know, that’s putting on so many frills? Why, I knew him when he wasn’t nothing but a dern telegraph operator. Gentlemen, you can do as you choose; as for me, I’ve had enough of this sashaying around so’s ‘t you can’t get a chance to pray, because the time’s all required for cussing. So off goes my war paint-you hear me!”
The whole regiment said, with one voice, “That’s the talk for me!” So there and then, on the spot, my brigade disbanded itself and tramped off home, with me at the tail of it. I hung up my own sword and returned to the arts of peace - and there were some people who said I hadn’t been absent from them yet. We were the first men that went into the Confederate army in Missouri; we were the first that went out of it anywhere. The philosophers among those here assembled might reflect on the fact that it was after I discharged myself from my military obligations that the confederacy fell.
General Grant, who was not one given to paying compliments gratuitously, later said frankly that if I had conducted the whole war, much bloodshed would have been spared.
My brother, Orion – 10 years older than me, the oldest of my siblings – had gone against the grain of most people in our part of Missouri and advocated abolition and Unionism; in fact, he had tirelessly campaigned for Abraham Lincoln when that man was running for president; after Lincoln was elected to that office, my brother was rewarded for his efforts by his being appointed Secretary of the Nevada Territory – a brand new Territory which Lincoln wanted to become a State soon – a desire that would be fulfilled just three years later, in 1864.
Orion had no money to get to his new situation in Nevada; I wanted to get away from the war, and I had money – saved from my wages as a pilot. So I bought the tickets for both of us, and we headed west together – first on a steamboat up the Missouri River to St. Joseph, Missouri, and the rest of the way by stagecoach, from St. Joseph to Carson City. It took us 20 days to make that journey on the stage (today, it would only take a few days by train); during that long, bumpy ride, we saw Indians, desperadoes, jackrabbits, coyotes, lots of sagebrush and dust, and even the occasional Pony Express rider. We finally arrived in Carson City, the capital of the Territory, travel-worn and covered with alkali dust.
The first person we met when we got off the stage in Carson City was a man who went by the name of Jack Harris. Passing by on horseback, he stopped to welcome us to the city; he barely got past saying hello when he begged leave to interrupt himself, saying, “I’ll have to get you to excuse me for a minute. Yonder is that witness that swore I helped to rob the California coach-a piece of impertinent intermeddling, sir, for I am not even acquainted with the man.” I did notice that he didn’t deny the charge, just took offense at the man being a busybody.
Well, these two became acquainted immediately thereafter, because Jack rode over to the stranger, and began to rebuke the man with his six-shooter, and the stranger began to explain his point of view with another. The exchange of opposing viewpoints was brief. The impertinent meddler resumed repairing the hitching post he had been working on, and Harris rode away, nodding politely to Orion and me - with a bullet through one of his lungs, and several more in his hips.
That was our introduction to Carson City, and a pretty fitting one, too, for things like that happened pretty often there back then.
Much of the time until statehood, Orion functioned as the acting governor of Nevada, as Governor Nye was frequently out of the area – either in San Francisco (or “Frisco” as we called it) or back east somewhere. In fact, my brother could have continued in high office in Nevada after statehood, except for one thing: of all times, he chose then to become a staunch prohibitionist - something the hard-drinking voters of Nevada were decidedly not in favor of. Orion’s political career ended with a resounding thud; he never held public office again.
There was something I noticed about Carson City that really struck me: Everybody rode horseback in that town. I never saw such magnificent horsemanship as that displayed in Carson streets every day, and I did envy them, not being much of a horseman myself. But I did learn to tell a horse from a cow, and was burning with impatience to learn more. I was determined to have a horse and ride myself. Whilst this thought was in my mind, the auctioneer came through the plaza on a black beast, that was humped like a dromedary, and fearfully homely. He was going at, “22 dollars, for horse, saddle, and bridle.”
A man standing near me-whom I didn’t know, but who turned out to be the auctioneer’s brother-noticed the wistful look in my eye, and observed that that was a remarkable horse to be going at such a price, let alone the saddle and bridle. I said I had half a notion to bid. “Now,” he says, “I know that horse. I know him well. You’re a stranger, I take it. You might think he is an American horse, but he is not anything of the kind. He is a Mexican plug—that’s what he is—a genuine Mexican plug.”
There was something about that man’s way of saying it that made me just determined that I would own a genuine Mexican plug—if it took every cent I had. And I said, “Has he any other advantages?” He hooked his forefinger in the pocket of my shirt, and led me to one side, and in a low tone so that no one else could hear said, “Sh! Don’t say a word! That horse can outbuck any horse in America; he can outbuck any horse in the world.” Just then the auctioneer came back around. “24 dollars, for the horse, saddle, and bridle.” I said, “27!” “Sold!”
I took the genuine Mexican plug, paid for him, put him in a livery stable, let him get something to eat, and get rested, and then in the afternoon I brought him out into the plaza, and some of the citizens held him by the head, and others held him down to the earth by the tail, and together, let his back sag down.
I got on, and then the plug arched his back up suddenly, and shot me one hundred and eighty yards; and I came down again, straight down, and lighted in the saddle, and went up again. And when I came down that time I lit on his neck, and seized him, and slid back into the saddle, and held on. Then he raised himself straight up in the air on his hind feet, and just walked around awhile, like a member of Congress, and then he came down and went up the other way, and walked around on his hands, just as a schoolboy would.
Then he came down on all fours again with the same old process of shooting me up in the air, and the third time I went up I heard a man say, “Oh, don’t he buck!” So that’s what “bucking” was! I was very glad to know it. Not that I was enjoying it, but then I had been taking a general sort of interest in it, and had naturally desired to know what the name of it was. And whilst I was up that time somebody hit the horse a whack with a strap, and when I came down again the genuine bucker was gone.
While this performance was going on, a sympathizing crowd had gathered around, and one of them remarked to me, “Stranger, you have been taken in. That’s a genuine Mexican plug,” and another one says, “Think of it! You might have bought an American horse, used to all kinds of work, for just a few more dollars.” Well I didn’t want to talk. I didn’t have anything to say. I was so jolted up, so internally, externally and eternally mixed up, gone all to pieces. I put one hand on my forehead, and the other on my stomach; and if I had been the owner of 16 hands I could have found a place for every one of them.
Being in Nevada, where the great silver deposits were located-such as the Comstock Lode-it was only natural that I catch the fever to strike it rich. I had expected to just be able to go out into the hills outside of Carson City and find silver lying on the ground, where I would gather it up, get rich, and go home in style. But it was not that way!
I eventually got to know substantially everything there was to know about mining, (except how to make money at it); in time, I abandoned mining and went to milling. That is to say, I went to work as a common laborer in a quartz mill, at ten dollars a week and board. I only lasted a week there, though, because when I asked for an increase in wages to $400,000 a month, I was invited to leave the premises…then, something else turned up.
I had written a few letters for the press, and just when I was about as broke as I could be, I received a letter from the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise offering me $25 a week to go and be a reporter on that paper. I could hardly believe it – that was a lot more than I had been paid at the stamp mill. If I had been offered the job of translating Josephus from the original Hebrew, I would have taken it.
So, I walked the 120 miles from the mining camp of Aurora, on the California border, in pretty quick time and took the berth.
When I arrived in Virginia City, I noticed what a rip-roaring town it was – I saw that there were fire companies, brass bands, banks, hotels, theatres, gambling palaces, parades, street fights, a dozen breweries, half a dozen jails in full operation, and some talk of building a church.
When I walked into the newspaper office, my new coworkers had no idea who I was – had never seen me before. They didn’t know if they were looking at a miner, a gunslinger, or a landlocked sailor. I was wearing the typical western costume of blue woolen shirt, denim pants, slouch hat, and a navy revolver stuffed into my belt; I also had a red beard hanging halfway down my chest, and was carrying a bunch of blankets slung over my shoulder. I tramped into the newspaper office, collapsed into the first chair I came to, and after awhile-with everyone there staring at me- I said, “Dang my buttons, if I don’t believe I’m lousy! My starboard leg seems to be unshipped. I’d like about 100 yards of line.”
And that’s how I got my start as a writer; I eventually moved to San Francisco and worked on several papers there, then had to escape that city for a while and went up into the hills of the gold rush country, where I heard the story that I turned into The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, which led to nationwide fame and to those first lectures which I gave in San Francisco, back in Carson City and Virginia, and even towns such as Red Dog, as I mentioned earlier.
Thank you — you’ve been a great audience!
My biography of Mark Twain masquerading as an autobiography, Rebel With a Cause: Mark Twain’s Hidden Memoirs, can be found here. If you would like to book me for the 30-minute performance, leave a message below or on my IG account (clayshannon1958), or write to email@example.com