Rare Mark Twain Writings Capture a Dark Period

Dispatches reveal author's reporting days at SF newspaper, despondent thoughts
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 5, 2015 11:27 AM CDT
Rare Mark Twain Writings Capture a 'Special', Yet Dark Period
Bob Hirst, general editor of the Mark Twain Project, holds up a photo of Twain at the Bancroft Library at the University of California-Berkeley in Berkeley, Calif., Monday, May 4, 2015.   (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Before he was penning the adventures of Tom and Huck, Mark Twain worked for a San Francisco newspaper and wasn't so different from a lot of 21st-century journalists struggling in an evolving industry: He was drinking, in debt, and not sure where his career would take him. So indicate a batch of letters and stories that date back 150 years, recently uncovered by Bob Hirst and the University of California-Berkeley's Mark Twain Project, the Guardian reports. Some writings were during Twain's stint at the San Francisco Chronicle (then the San Francisco Dramatic Chronicle), where part of his job was a 2,000-word column that would be taken by stagecoach to be printed in the Territorial Enterprise in Nevada, the Guardian notes.

Researchers found about 110 of Twain's columns dating from 1865 to 1866; topics ranged from trapped gold speculators to a police chief Twain compared to a tail-chasing dog, the AP reports. Some of his harshest criticism was reserved for local cops, who Twain suggested should be made out of wax, per the San Francisco Chronicle. "Wax figures, besides being far more economical, would be about as useful," he wrote. Hirst tells the AP, "This is a very special period in his life. He's utterly free, he's not encumbered by a marriage ... and he can speak his mind." However, Hirst adds, Twain was also at a crossroads: He was turning 30, in debt, indulging in alcohol, and not sure what to do next in his career. "If I do not get out of debt in three months—pistols or poison for one—exit me," he wrote in an 1865 letter to his brother, per the Washington Post. (One writer says Twain's characters would have been medicated in modern times.)

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