Such things came out of the Comstock; such things spring out of every turbulent frontier.
Madame Caprell’s warning concerning Mark Twain’s health at twenty-eight would seem to have been justified. High-strung and neurotic, the strain of newspaper work and the tumult of the Comstock had told on him. As in later life, he was subject to bronchial colds, and more than once that year he found it necessary to drop all work and rest for a time at Steamboat Springs, a place near Virginia City, where there were boiling springs and steaming fissures in the mountain-side, and a comfortable hotel. He contributed from there sketches somewhat more literary in form than any of his previous work. “Curing a Cold” is a more or less exaggerated account of his ills.
[Included in Sketches New and Old. “Information for the Million,” and “Advice to Good Little Girls,” included in the “Jumping Frog” Collection, 1867, but omitted from the Sketches, are also believed to belong to this period.]
A portion of a playful letter to his mother, written from the springs, still exists.
You have given my vanity a deadly thrust. Behold, I am prone to boast of having the widest reputation as a local editor of any man on the Pacific coast, and you gravely come forward and tell me “if I work hard and attend closely to my business, I may aspire to a place on a big San Francisco daily some day.” There’s a comment on human vanity for you! Why, blast it, I was under the impression that I could get such a situation as that any time I asked for it. But I don’t want it. No paper in the United States can afford to pay me what my place on the Enterprise is worth. If I were not naturally a lazy, idle, good-for-nothing vagabond, I could make it pay me $20,000 a year. But I don’t suppose I shall ever be any account. I lead an easy life, though, and I don’t care a cent whether school keeps or not. Everybody knows me, and I fare like a prince wherever I go, be it on this side of the mountain or the other. And I am proud to say I am the most conceited ass in the Territory.
You think that picture looks
old? Well, I can’t help it—in
I’m not as old as I was when I was eighteen.
Which was a true statement, so far as his general attitude was concerned. At eighteen, in New York and Philadelphia, his letters had been grave, reflective, advisory. Now they were mostly banter and froth, lightly indifferent to the serious side of things, though perhaps only pretendedly so, for the picture did look old. From the shock and circumstance of his brother’s death he—had never recovered. He was barely twenty-eight. From the picture he might have been a man of forty.
It was that year that Artemus Ward (Charles F. Browne) came to Virginia City. There was a fine opera-house in Virginia, and any attraction that billed San Francisco did not fail to play to the Comstock. Ward intended staying only a few days to deliver his lectures, but the whirl of the Comstock caught him like a maelstrom, and he remained three weeks.