“At last one of the proprietors took me aside, with a charity I still remember with considerable respect, and gave me an opportunity to resign my berth, and so save myself the disgrace of a dismissal.”
As an extreme contrast with the supposititious “butterfly idleness” of his beginning in San Francisco, and for no other discoverable reason, he doubtless thought it necessary, in the next chapter of that book, to depict himself as having reached the depths of hard luck, debt, and poverty.
“I became an adept at slinking,” he says. “I slunk from back street to back street.... I slunk to my bed. I had pawned everything but the clothes I had on.”
This is pure fiction. That he occasionally found himself short of funds is likely enough—a literary life invites that sort of thing—but that he ever clung to a single “silver ten-cent piece,” as he tells us, and became the familiar of mendicancy, was a condition supplied altogether by his later imagination to satisfy what he must have regarded as an artistic need. Almost immediately following his separation from the ‘Call’ he arranged with Goodman to write a daily letter for the Enterprise, reporting San Francisco matters after his own notion with a free hand. His payment for this work was thirty dollars a week, and he had an additional return from his literary sketches. The arrangement was an improvement both as to labor and income.
Real affluence appeared on the horizon just then, in the form of a liberal offer for the Tennessee land. But alas! it was from a wine-grower who wished to turn the tract into great vineyards, and Orion had a prohibition seizure at the moment, so the trade was not made. Orion further argued that the prospective purchaser would necessarily be obliged to import horticultural labor from Europe, and that those people might be homesick, badly treated, and consequently unhappy in those far eastern Tennessee mountains. Such was Orion’s way.
THE REFUGE OF THE HILLS
Those who remember Mark Twain’s Enterprise letters (they are no longer obtainable)—[Many of these are indeed now obtainable by a simple Web search. D.W.]—declare them to have been the greatest series of daily philippics ever written. However this may be, it is certain that they made a stir. Goodman permitted him to say absolutely what he pleased upon any subject. San Francisco was fairly weltering in corruption, official and private. He assailed whatever came first to hand with all the fierceness of a flaming indignation long restrained.