Mark Twain’s work on the Express represented only a portion of his literary activities during his Buffalo residence. The Galaxy, an ambitious New York magazine of that day—[published by Sheldon & Co. at 498 and 500 Broadway]—, proposed to him that he conduct for them a humorous department. They would pay $2,400 a year for the work, and allow him a free hand. There was some discussion as to book rights, but the arrangement was concluded, and his first instalment, under the general title of “Memoranda,” appeared in the May number, 1870. In his Introductory he outlined what the reader might expect, such as “exhaustive statistical tables,” “Patent Office reports,” and “complete instructions about farming, even from the grafting of the seed to the harrowing of the matured crops.” He declared that he would throw a pathos into the subject of agriculture that would surprise and delight the world. He added that the “Memoranda” was not necessarily a humorous department.
I would not conduct an exclusively and professedly humorous department for any one. I would always prefer to have the privilege of printing a serious and sensible remark, in case one occurred to me, without the reader’s feeling obliged to consider himself outraged.... Puns cannot be allowed a place in this department.... No circumstance, however dismal, will ever be considered a sufficient excuse for the admission of that last and saddest evidence of intellectual poverty, the pun.
The Galaxy was really a fine magazine, with the best contributors obtainable; among them Justin McCarthy, S. M. B. Piatt, Richard Grant White, and many others well known in that day, with names that still flicker here and there in its literary twilight. The new department appealed to Clemens, and very soon he was writing most of his sketches for it. They were better literature, as a rule, than those published in his own paper.
The first number of the “Memoranda” was fairly representative of those that followed it. “The Facts in the Case of the Great Beef Contract,” a manuscript which he had undertaken three years before and mislaid, was its initial contribution. Besides the “Beef Contract,” there was a tribute to George Wakeman, a well-known journalist of those days; a stricture on the Rev. T. DeWitt Talmage, who had delivered from the pulpit an argument against workingmen occupying pews in fashionable churches; a presentment of the Chinese situation in San Francisco, depicting the cruel treatment of the Celestial immigrant; a burlesque of the Sunday-school “good little boy” story,—["The Story of the Good Little Boy Who Did Not Prosper” and the “Beef Contract” are included in Sketches New and Old; also the Chinese sketch, under the title, “Disgraceful Persecution of a Boy."]—and several shorter skits—and anecdotes, ten pages in all; a rather generous contract.