[Transcribed text of MT lecture, given 18 December 1871.]
Delivered in the Michigan Avenue Baptist Church --
An Original Introduction -- Mark's Experience with
a "Genuine Mexican Plug" -- Reportorial Experience
at Virginia City -- Remarkable Exploits as a Duellist.
"Mark Twain" delivered his new lecture, which contains his Nevada experience, on Monday evening at the Michigan Avenue Baptist Church, and last evening at the Union Park Congregational Church. Both places were crowded. Mr. Clemens is a youngish looking man of perhaps thirty-five, not handsome, but having a bright, intelligent look, and an eye with a humorous twinkle that put him at once en rapport with an audience. There is nothing finical about his style of dress. He is clean shaven, and his manner of wearing his hair, which is abundant, shows that he is his own tonsorial artist. His clothing, upon the platform, was, on Monday evening, a black suit, the upper garment being a black frock coat, closely buttoned. His style of oratorical delivery is like that of Artemas Ward. He has the same dry, hesitating, stammering manner, and his face, aside from the merry light in his eyes, is as grave and solemn as the visage of an undertaker when screwing down a coffin-lid. He always introduces himself, for reasons which he gives his audiences. On Monday night he prefaced his lecture with the following remarks:
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. By request of the Chairman of the committee, who has been very busy, and is very tired, I suppose, I ask leave to introduce to you the lecturer of the evening, Mr. Clemens, otherwise Mark Twain, a gentleman whose great learning, whose historical accuracy, whose devotion to science, and whose veneration for the truth [laughter] are only equalled by his moral character and his majestic presence. [Renewed laughter.] I refer these vague general terms to myself. [Giggling.] I am a little opposed to the custom of ceremoniously introducing the lecturer to the audience, because it seems to me unnecessary where the man has been properly advertised [laughter], and besides it is very uncomfortable for the lecturer. But where it is the custom, an introduction ought to be made, and I had rather make it myself in my own case, and then I can rely on getting in all the facts. [Continued laughter.] It is not a simple introduction that I mind. I don't really care for that at all, but it is the compliments that sometimes go with it -- that is what hurts. It would make anyone uncomfortable. You can fancy a young lady introduced to a parlor-full of company as the best conversationalist, the best model in every way in her section of the country. You might just as well knock her in the head. She could not say a word the rest of the evening.
I never had but one public introduction that seemed exactly the thing; that seemed to be a very inspiration in the way of an introduction. The gentleman had a good head, and he said he supposed I didn't want any compliments. I said he was exactly right, I didn't want any compliments. And when he introduced me he said, "Ladies and gentlemen, I shall not waste any unnecessary time in the introduction. I don't know anything about this man; [laughter] at least I only know two things about him; one is that he has never been in the Penitentiary, and the other is I can't imagine why." [Prolonged laughter.] Now such an introduction puts a man right at ease. [Laughter.]
The speaker alluded to the various lectures which he had delivered the present season. He had prepared several; got tired of them, and cast them aside. He really supposed that his audience didn't care what the lecturer talked about. [Laughter.] The present address was part of a volume of 600 octavo pages, now in press, which detailed his experience in Nevada. He would give them thirty or forty pages of it, or the whole 600, just as they preferred. "There's nothing mean about me," said Mark, with a sudden flush of innocence.
He then proceeded to describe an overland trip as it was twelve or fifteen years ago, before the days of Pacific railroads. He and his party were bound for Nevada. A description of that territory followed, with the characteristics of soil, climate, productions which it presents, and the peculiarities of life and population which it there presented. Its mountains, its valleys, its cloudless skies, were all well depicted. The Territory never has possessed 30,000 inhabitants, and yet it sends two senators to Congress, and has all the national influence that attends upon a Commonwealth. Equal representation was something which he believed one's ancestors contended for at the time of the revolution, although he was not certain, not having been present. He spent considerable time while in Nevada, at Carson City. Here he had a peculiar adventure, which was given to the audience in the form of a narrative. We give it nearly in the speaker's own words:
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, though I was not much of a horseman. But I had soon learned to tell a horse from a cow [laughter], and was burning with impatience to learn more. I was determined to have a horse and ride myself. Whilst this thought was rankling in my mind, the auctioneer came scouring through the plaza on a black beast, that was humped, and ----- like a dromedary, and fearfully homely. He was going at "twenty, twenty-two-two 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 are 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," but there was something else about that man's way of saying it, that made me just determine 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 locket of my army shirt and led me to one side, and uttered, "Sh! don't say a word! He can outbuck any horse in America; he can out-buck any horse in the world" [laughter.] Just then the auctioneer came along. "Twenty-four, twenty-four dollars, for the horse, saddle. and bridle." I said "Twenty-seven!" "Sold." [laughter.]
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 in the plaza, and some of the citizens held him by the head, and others held him down to the earth by the tail, and I got on him. And as soon as those people let go [laughter], he put all his feet in a bunch together, let his back sag down, and then he arched it up [laughter] suddenly [laughter], and shot me one hundred and eighty yards [great laughter]; and I came down again, straight down, and lighted in the saddle, and went up again. And when I came down the next 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 stepped around like a member of Congress [convulsive laughter], and then he came down and went up the other way, and just 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 "O, don't he buck!" [Loud laughter.] So that was "bucking." 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 [laughter], and had naturally desired to know what the name of it was. And whilst I was up somebody hit the horse a whack with a strap, and when I got down again the genuine bucker was gone. [Roars of laughter.]
At this point of the interesting scene, a kindhearted stranger came to the rider, told him that he had been taken in, explained the mysterious terms, and gave him the comforting information that anybody in town could have told him all about the horse if he had inquired.
A description of Lake Tahoe followed, which showed considerable literary skill. This is a sheet of water, beautifully clear and deep, which never freezes, and has wonderful curative properties.
The mining adventures of the speaker, with his hopes, fears, poverty, and afflictions, were detailed at some length. Minute descriptions were given of the silver mines, the appearance of the various ores, and the ups and downs of mining life. But, quite unexpectedly, he received an invitation one day from a newspaper in Virginia City, with which he had been corresponding, to come and be a reporter on that journal, at a salary of $25 a week in gold. He went, and remained three years. The life of a reporter was described in the following terms:
I reported on that morning newspaper three years, and it was pretty hard work. But I enjoyed its attractions. Reporting is the best school in the world to get a knowledge of human beings, human nature, and human ways. A nice, gentlemanly reporter -- I make no references -- is well treated by everybody. Just think of the wide range of his acquaintanceship, his experience of life and society! No other occupation brings a man into such familiar sociable relations with all grades and classes of people. The last thing at night -- midnight -- he goes browsing around after items among police and jail-birds, in the lock-up, questioning the prisoners, and making pleasant and lasting friendships with some of the worst people in the world. [Laughter.] And the very next evening he gets himself up regardless of expense, puts on all the good clothes his friends have got -- [laughter] goes and takes dinner with the Governor or the Commander-in-Chief of the District, the United States Senator, and some more of the upper crust of society. He is on good terms with all of them, and is present at every public gathering, and has easy access to every variety of people. Why I breakfasted almost every morning with the Governor, dined with the principal clergyman, and slept in the Station House. [Laughter.]
A reporter has to lie a little, of course, or they would discharge him. That is the only drawback to the profession. That is why I left it. [Laughter.] I am different from Washington; I have a higher and grander standard of principle. Washington could not lie. I can lie, but I won't . [Prolonged laughter.] Reporting is fascinating, but then it is distressing to have to lie so. Lying is bad -- lying is very bad. Every individual in this house knows that by experience. I think that for a man to tell a lie when he can't make anything by it, is wrong. [Laughter.]
A description of Virginia City followed.
After the reportorial experience of Mr. Clemens was ended, he became editor-in-chief of the paper on which he was working. He kept his position one week. The reason for this extreme brevity of time was that, according to the code of ethics of Virginia City, if you injured a man you were expected to challenge him. Duels accumulated rapidly on his hands. The first three of four he did not notice, as it was thought the persons would not fight. But at length he had trouble with the editor of the rival sheet, and a challenge passed. The boys were delighted, especially Steve, a near and dear friend. His friends took him out in the woods to practice with a revolver, that being the favorite duelling weapon. His opponent was a long, lean fellow, and not brilliant. A target for practice was made by leaning a rail against a stable-door to represent his antagonist, and putting on a squash for a head. The rail was a little too much of a caricature, but the squash did very well. He could not hit the rail, or even the stable-door. To make it more uncomfortable they could hear this antagonist with his friends practicing in a neighboring valley. Steve, being a dead shot, killed a bird, and the other party coming over to see what was the matter, the credit of this shot was given to Mark, and the party were informed that he could do the same thing nine times out of ten. When Mark and his friends got home that night they found a note declining the honor of a duel. All the other duels were declined with thanks, and Steve got them much to his delight. But accidentally hearing of his powers, they were all off, whereat that belligerent party was greatly grieved.
The lecture closed with some amusing moral reflections regarding the sins of duelling.
Lecture at the Michigan Avenue Baptist Church -- Lake
Tahoe and Camp Life in Its Vicinity -- Remarkable Recovery
of an Invalid -- Hunting Rocky Mountain Sheep -- Mark's
Great Sand Shifter -- Duelling at Virginia City.
We have already given liberal extracts from the lecture which Mark Twain delivered in this city on Monday evening. The matter pans out so well, both in a literary and humorous point of view, that we append a few more passages taken from the copious notes of our reporter:
One of the most attractive portions of the lecture, and also one of the most polished, was a description of Lake Tahoe in Nevada. It is situated many thousand feet above the level of the sea, and yet it never freezes. Not the thinnest film of ice is ever seen upon its surface. And yet Lake Donner, which is at about the same altitude, and not far distant, is covered thickly with ice every winter. Here is a nut for scientists to crack, said the humorist. The question is not why Lake Donner freezes, but why Lake Tahoe does not freeze. Silver mining, not furnishing the seeker after wealth very steady employment, a large portion of the time was spent in a boat on this beautiful lake. It was so clear that the pebbles on its bottom were visible at a great depth. The extreme depth of the water was about one-fourth of a mile. The audience was asked to imagine the number of church spires that could be placed one above the other before the surface was reached. The curative properties of the water, and the atmosphere of this region are most remarkable. Every consumptive invalid was urged to throw physic to the dogs and make their systems strong and perfect by a little camp life at Lake Tahoe. Said the speaker:
"If it don't cure them, I will bury them. I shall be glad to bury them -- I shall be glad to do it. I will give them a funeral that will be a comfort to them as long as they live. But it will cure them. I met a man there -- he had been a man once -- now he was nothing but a shadow and a very poor shadow at that -- and that man had come there deliberately to die, and what a sickly failure he made of it! He was in dead earnest. He had heard that this air was easy and soothing to breathe, as God knows it is; and he had simply come there to have what comfort he might whilst life ebbed away. And he had brought along a plan of his private graveyard, and pictures and drawings of different kinds of coffins and hearses, and such things, and he never did anything but sit around and study that graveyard, and figure at coffins, and such things, trying to make up his mind which kind he liked best, or which kind would be most becoming. And when I saw that man three months afterward he was chasing mountain sheep over a mountain seven miles high, with a Sharp's rifle. He did not get them, but be chased them all the same. And he has used up all his graveyards, and coffins -- all his plans and pictures, for wadding -- and sent for more.
"When I first saw him, his clothes hung about him -- why, they did not fit him any more than a circus tent fits the tent poles, but now they clung to him like court plaster. He could hardly breathe without starting a seam. He weighed a ton -- he weighed more than a ton. I throw in the odd ounces -- eleven, I think it was. But I know what I am talking about, because I took him to the hay scales myself. There was a lot of us stood on there with him.
"But, really, that was a remarkable cure. I have exaggerated it a little. You might not have noticed it. But still it was a cure and a very remarkable one. I wish you would not heed my nonsense, but simply take note of my earnest word. I think if I could only persuade one invalid to go there I should feel as if I had done one thing worth having accomplished. I am really sincere about that."
"If there is a sportsman is this audience, I say to him, shoulder your gun and go out there. It is the best hunting place on the face of the earth. You can hunt there year after year, and not find anything. You can find mountain sheep, but you cannot get near them. You can see plenty of them with a spy-glass. But that was the only game I saw that was worth speaking of, when I was there, except 'seven-up.' [For the sake of convenience, we omit the laughter, only stating that it was incessant. -- REPORTER.] I will here remark that the mountain sheep is our American chamois -- French pronunciation! He is the same kind they make the chamois leather of in other countries. We would here if we could catch him. He has enormous horns, and is a pretty large animal, too. He is so shy, so very shy, that it's almost impossible to get within rifle-shot of him. He inhabits the rockiest fastnesses of the mountains."
"I had to go to work in a quartz mill at $10 a week. A nice place, truly, for the proprietor of a hundred silver mines! But I was glad to get that berth. But I could not keep it. They did not want me. I did'nt know why. I was the most careful workman they had ever had. They said so. I took more pains with my work. I was shovelling sand. The technical term is "tailing." The silver rock is ground over once or twice and they clean it up and work it over again. Whenever I had a lot of that sand to shovel I was so particular that I would sit down for an hour and a half and think about the best way to shovel that sand. And if I could not cipher it out in my mind just so, I would not go shovelling it around heedless. I would leave it alone until next day. Many a time when I would be carrying a bucket full of sand from one pile to another, thirty or forty feet off, right in the middle, suddenly, a new idea would strike me, and I would carry that sand back, and sit down and think about it, and like enough get so wrought up, and absorbed in it, that I would go to sleep. Why, I always knew there must be some tip-top, first-rate way to move that sand. At last I discovered it. I went to the boss, and told him that I had got just the thing, the very best and quickest way to get that sand from one pile to the other. And he says, 'I am awful glad to hear it.' You never saw a man so uplifted as he was. It appeared to take a load off his breast -- a load of sand, I suppose. And I said -- 'What you want now is a cast iron pipe about 13 or 14 feet in diameter, and, say, 42 feet long. And you want to prop one end of that pipe up, about 35 or 40 feet off the ground. And then you want a revolving belt -- just work it with the waste steam from the engine -- a revolving belt with a revolving chair to it. I am to sit in that chair, and have a Chinaman down there to till up the bucket with sand, and pass it up as I come around, [illustrates with gestures] and I am just to soar up there and tilt it into that pipe, and there you are. It is as easy as rolling off a log.
"You never saw a man so overcome with admiration -- so overwhelmed. Before he knew what he was about he discharged me."
From Esmarelda, the scene of his mining exploits, Mark went to Virginia City. Here he held a reportorial position on one of the papers for three years. After deserting the mining speculation, and the collapse that followed it, he said: "That was a singular town. They had some of the strangest customs -- some of the most curious customs. When I finished reporting on that paper they made me chief editor. I lasted just a week. I edited that paper six days, and then I had five duels on my hands. I wouldn't have minded that if it had been the custom for those other people to challenge me. Then I would have simply have declined with thanks. But it was not so. If you abused a man in the paper, if you called him names -- they had no rights there such as we have here -- it the men didn't like it, you had to challenge him, and shoot him. Of course I didn't want to do this, but the publisher said it was the custom -- society must be protected. If I could not do the duties of my position, he would have to hire somebody else.
"I didn't mind the first three or four men; but the other man -- I was after him. I knew he didn't want to fight so I was going to make all the reputation out of him I could. He got touched at something I said about him -- I don't know what it was now -- I called him a thief, perhaps. He fought very shy of me at first, and so I plied him with bloodthirsty challenges all the more. At last be began to take an interest in this thing. It seemed as though he really was going to enter into it at last. All our boys were delighted at the prospect, but I was not. This was not a turn I was expecting in things.
"I had taken for my second a fiery, peppery little fellow, named Steve, full of fight, and anxious to have this thing fixed up right away. He took me over into a little ravine beyond the town to practice. It was the custom to fight with Colt's navy revolvers at five steps. We borrowed a stable door for a mark from a gentleman who was absent. We set up that stable door, and then we propped a fence rail up against the middle of it to represent my antagonist, and put a squash on it to represent his head. He was a very light thin man, very thin -- the poorest kind of material for a duel -- you could not expect to do anything with a scattering shot at all. But he made a splendid line shot, and it was the line that that I practiced principally.
"But there was no success about it. I could not hit the rail, and there was no need that I should hit the rail; the rail did not really represent him. It was a little too thin and narrow. But the squash was all right. Well, I could not hit the rail, and I could not hit the squash, and, finally, when I found I could not hit the door either, I got a little discouraged. But when I noticed that I crippled one of the boys occasionally, I thought it was not so bad -- I was dangerous with a pistol, but not reliable.
"Finally, we heard some shooting going on over in the other ravine. We knew what that meant. The other party was practicing. I didn't feel comfortable. They might straggle over the ridge, and see what was going on, and when they saw no bullet-hole in that barn door, it would be too much encouragement for them. Just then a little bird, a little larger than a sparrow, lit on a sage bush near by. Steve whipped out his revolver and shot its head off. The boys picked up the bird, and were talking about it, when the other duelling party came over the ridge, and came down to see what was going on. When the second saw the bird he said, 'How far off was that?' Steve said about thirty steps. 'Who did that?' 'Why, Twain, my man, of course.' 'Did he, indeed! can he do that often?' 'Well, he can do that about four times in five.'
"I knew that little rascal was lying, but I didn't like to tell him so. I was one of those kind of men that don't like to be too frank or too familiar in a matter like that, so I didn't say anything. But it was a comfort to see those fellows under jaws drop; to see them turn blue about the gills and look sick. They went off, and got their man and took him home, and when I got home I found a little note from these parties, peremptorily declining to fight. How sore the boys were! How indignant they were! And so was I! But I was not distressed about it. I thought I could stand it, perhaps.
"Well, I was out of that scrape, and I didn't want to got into anymore of them. I turned the other four duels over to Steve, who wanted them. But when those people found out afterward that he did that shooting, he didn't get any good out of his duels. They wouldn't fight him.
"All that was in my younger days, when I didn't know much -- which I do now. I didn't know any better then, but now I am bitterly opposed to duelling. I won't have anything to do with duelling. I think that duelling is immoral, and has a bad tendency, and I think it is every man's duty to frown down and discourage duelling. I do. I discourage it on all occasions. If a man were to challenge me now, I would go and take that man by the hand, and lead him to a quiet, private room -- and kill him!
"Ladies and gentlemen, after thanking you very heartily for the attention you have given me this evening, I desire to wish you a very pleasant good night, and at the same time assure you earnestly that I have told nothing but the truth to-night, and I have hardly exaggerated that." [Laughter and applause.]