In Roughing It and its sequel, The Innocents at Home, Mr. Clemens describes his adventures and experiences in the Far West of America, as private secretary to a Government official, as a silver miner, and as a "city" editor and reporter, during the period embracing "the rise, growth, and culmination of the silver-mining fever is Nevada--a curious episode in some aspects; the only one, of its peculiar kind, that has occured in the land, and the only one, indeed, that is likely to occur in it." These volumes are narratives of fact, written in a stlye bordering on the burlesque. The information they contain is valuable and rare, relating, as it does, to "an interesting episode in the history of the Far West, about which no books have been written by persons who were on the ground in person." But "Mark Twain" does not serve up his information in its raw, natural form. We need hardly say he is not a grave biographer. He passed through a most exciting career in Nevada and California, encountering prosperity and misfortune in a spirit somewhat similar to that displayed by Mark Tapley, and he tells his story with the same eccentric geniality. His humour is not of a very delicate or profound order, but he enjoys it so keenly himself that it is impossible to resist the contagion. This humour is, moreover, evidently the natural outgrowth of the unsettled, adventurous, wild life he has led. All the characters introduced in these books are more or less humorous, and their humour has a family likeness about it that is unmistakable. It is the humour of men that have been accustomed to violent reversals of fortune, whose existence is one long, desperate game, in which great prizes may be at any moment won, and who are ready to undergo any amount of hardship, while there remains a chance or a hope of securing one of them. It is the humour of strong, daring, adventurous spirits, animated by wild, irregular passions, which may unfit them for settled life, but are among the very qualities required for semi-civilized regions, such as those that form the scene of Mr. Clemens's two books and of Mr. Eggleston's Hoosier Schoolmaster.
Roughing It is, in some respects, superior to The Innocents at Home. It is more consecutive and less fragmentary, but both are almost equally racy and entertaining. The account of the journey from St. Louis to Carson City--including a graphic sketch of the life and character of a desperado, named Slade, who long held Rocky Ridge in terror, and some interesting researches in the Mormon Bible--occupy about one-half of Roughing It. Like the rest of the volume and its sequel, this part abounds in striking incidents, but we must pass these over, and come to the idyllic chapter where the author describes the attempt he and a companion made to settle on the shores of Lake Tahoe. Here is a passage recounting how the two solitary pioneers spent their day, after they had built a "brush" house, which was not intended for sleeping in. "That never occured to us for one thing; and besides, it was built to hold the ground, and that was enough. We did not wish to strain it."
We slept in the sand close to the water's edge, between two protecting boulders, which took care of the stormy night-winds for us. We never took any paregoric to make us sleep. At the first break of dawn we were always up and running foot-races to tone down excess of physical vigor and exuberance of spirits. That is, Johnny was--but I held his hat. While smoking the pipe of peace after breakfast we watched the sentinel peaks put on the glory of the sun, and followed the conquering light as it swept down among the shadows, and set the captive crags and forests free. We watched the tinted pictures grow and brighten upon the water till every little detail of forest, precipice and pinnacle was wrought in and finished, and the miracle of the enchanter complete. Then to "business."
That is, drifting around in the boat. We were on the north shore. There, the rocks on the bottom are sometimes gray, sometimes white. This gives the marvelous transparency of the water a fuller advantage than it has elsewhere on the lake. We usually pushed out a hundred yards or so from shore, and then lay down on the thwarts, in the sun, and let the boat drift by the hour whither it would. We seldom talked. It interrupted the Sabbath stillness, and marred the dreams the luxurious rest and indolence brought. The shore all along was indented with deep, curved bays and coves, bordered by narrow sand-beaches; and where the sand ended, the steep mountain-sides rose right up aloft into space--rose up like a vast wall a little out of the perpendicular, and thickly wooded with tall pines.
So singularly clear was the water, that where it was only twenty or thirty feet deep the bottom was so perfectly distinct that the boat seemed floating in the air! Yes, where it was even eighty feet deep. Every little pebble was distinct, every speckled trout, every hand's-breadth of sand. Often, as we lay on our faces, a granite boulder, as large as a village church, would start out of the bottom apparently, and seem climbing up rapidly to the surface, till presently it threatened to touch our faces, and we could not resist the impulse to seize an oar and avert the danger. But the boat would float on, and the boulder descend again, and then we could see that when we had been exactly above it, it must still have been twenty or thirty feet below the surface. Down through the transparency of these great depths, the water was not merely transparent, but dazzlingly, brilliantly so. All objects seen through it had a bright, strong vividness, not only of outline, but of every minute detail, which they would not have had when seen simply through the same depth of atmosphere. So empty and airy did all spaces seem below us, and so strong was the sense of floating high aloft in mid-nothingness, that we called these boat-excursions "balloon-voyages."
We fished a good deal, but we did not average one fish a week. We could see trout by the thousand winging about in the emptiness under us, or sleeping in shoals on the bottom, but they would not bite--they could see the line too plainly, perhaps.
This Paradisaic life was but of short duration. The timber ranch took fire, and kindled a conflagration that embraced the forest and drove the campers to their boat. Hunger at last forced them from their happy spot, and our author entered upon a very different sort of experience. The difficulties attending the organisation of a new State are cleverly recounted in Mr. Clemens's account of his brother's troubles as first Secretary of the Nevada Territory--"an office of such majesty that it concentrated in itself the duties and dignities of Treasurer, Comptroller, Secretary of State, and Acting-Governor in the Governor's absence." It was shortly after the discovery of silver lodes in Carson County, in 1858, that this important official arrived in Carson City to establish a legitimately constituted government in the Territory, which already contained from twelve to fifteen thousand of a population and was rapidly growing every day, the mines being vigorously developed, and business of all kinds active and prosperous.