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Albert Bigelow Paine
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 260 pages of information about Mark Twain, a Biography Volume I, Part 1.
when American humor was chaotic, the public taste unformed.  We had a vast appreciation for what was comic, with no great number of opportunities for showing it.  We were so ready to laugh that when a real opportunity came along we improved it and kept on laughing and repeating the cause of our merriment, directing the attention of our friends to it.  Whether the story of “Jim Smiley’s Frog,” offered for the first time today, would capture the public, and become the initial block of a towering fame, is another matter.  That the author himself underrated it is certain.  That the public, receiving it at what we now term the psychological moment, may have overrated it is by no means impossible.  In any case, it does not matter now.  The stone rejected by the builder was made the corner-stone of his literary edifice.  As such it is immortal.

In the letter already quoted, Clemens speaks of both Bret Harte and himself as having quit the ‘Californian’ in future expecting to write for Eastern papers.  He adds: 

Though I am generally placed at the head of my breed of scribblers in this part of the country, the place properly belongs to Bret Harte, I think, though he denies it, along with the rest.  He wants me to club a lot of old sketches together with a lot of his, and publish a book.  I wouldn’t do it, only he agrees to take all the trouble.  But I want to know whether we are going to make anything out of it, first.  However, he has written to a New York publisher, and if we are offered a bargain that will pay for a month’s labor we will go to work and prepare the volume for the press.

Nothing came of the proposed volume, or of other joint literary schemes these two had then in mind.  Neither of them would seem to have been optimistic as to their future place in American literature; certainly in their most exalted moments they could hardly have dreamed that within half a dozen years they would be the head and front of a new school of letters—­the two most talked-of men in America.

LII

A COMMISSION TO THE SANDWICH ISLANDS

Whatever his first emotions concerning the success of “Jim Smiley’s Frog” may have been, the sudden astonishing leap of that batrachian into American literature gave the author an added prestige at home as well as in distant parts.  Those about him were inclined to regard him, in some degree at least, as a national literary figure and to pay tribute accordingly.  Special honors began to be shown to him.  A fine new steamer, the Ajax, built for the Sandwich Island trade, carried on its initial trip a select party of guests of which he was invited to make one.  He did not go, and reproached himself sorrowfully afterward.

If the Ajax were back I would go quick, and throw up my correspondence.  She had fifty-two invited guests aboard—­the cream of the town—­gentlemen and ladies, and a splendid brass band.  I could not accept because there would be no one to write my correspondence while I was gone.

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