“There would seem at first sight to be no more in his words than in other words. But they are words of enchantment. No sooner are they pronounced than the past is present and the distance near. New forms of beauty start at once into existence, and all the burial-places of the memory give up their dead.”
One drifts ahead, remembering these things. The triumph of words, the mastery of phrases, lay all before him at the time of which we are writing now. He was twenty-seven. At that age Rudyard Kipling had reached his meridian. Samuel Clemens was still in the classroom. Everything came as a lesson-phrase, form, aspect, and combination; nothing escaped unvalued. The poetic phase of things particularly impressed him. Once at a dinner with Goodman, when the lamp-light from the chandelier struck down through the claret on the tablecloth in a great red stain, he pointed to it dramatically “Look, Joe,” he said, “the angry tint of wine.”
It was at one of these private sessions, late in ’62, that Clemens proposed to report the coming meeting of the Carson legislature. He knew nothing of such work and had small knowledge of parliamentary proceedings. Formerly it had been done by a man named Gillespie, but Gillespie was now clerk of the house. Goodman hesitated; then, remembering that whether Clemens got the reports right or not, he would at least make them readable, agreed to let him undertake the work.
The early Nevada legislature was an interesting assembly. All State legislatures are that, and this was a mining frontier. No attempt can be made to describe it. It was chiefly distinguished for a large ignorance of procedure, a wide latitude of speech, a noble appreciation of humor, and plenty of brains. How fortunate Mask Twain was in his schooling, to be kept away from institutional training, to be placed in one after another of those universities of life where the sole curriculum is the study of the native inclinations and activities of mankind! Sometimes, in after-years, he used to regret the lack of systematic training. Well for him—and for us—that he escaped that blight.
For the study of human nature the Nevada assembly was a veritable lecture-room. In it his understanding, his wit, his phrasing, his self-assuredness grew like Jack’s bean-stalk, which in time was ready to break through into a land above the sky. He made some curious blunders in his reports, in the beginning; but he was so frank in his ignorance and in his confession of it that the very unsophistication of his early letters became their chief charm. Gillespie coached him on parliamentary matters, and in time the reports became technically as well as artistically good. Clemens in return christened Gillespie “Young, Jefferson’s Manual,” a title which he bore, rather proudly indeed, for many years.
Another “entitlement” growing out of those early reports, and possibly less satisfactory to its owner, was the one accorded to Clement T. Rice, of the Virginia City Union. Rice knew the legislative work perfectly and concluded to poke fun at the Enterprise letters.