On the Virginia City Enterprise Mark learned from editor R. M. Daggett that “when it was necessary to call a man names, there were no expletives too long or too expressive to be hurled in rapid succession to emphasize the utter want of character of the man assailed.... There were typesetters there who could hurl anathemas at bad copy which would have frightened a Bengal tiger. The news editor could damn a mutilated dispatch in twenty-four languages.”
In San Francisco in the sizzling sixties we catch a glimpse of Mark Twain and his buddy, Steve Gillis, pausing in doorways to sing “The Doleful Ballad of the Neglected Lover,” an old piece of uncollected erotica. One morning, when a dog began to howl, Steve awoke “to find his room-mate standing in the door that opened out into a back garden, holding a big revolver, his hand shaking with cold and excitement,” relates Paine in his Biography.
“‘Come here, Steve,’ he said. ’I’m so chilled through I can’t get a bead on him.’
“‘Sam,’ said Steve, ’don’t shoot him. Just swear at him. You can easily kill him at any range with your profanity.’
“Steve Gillis declares that Mark Twain let go such a scorching, singeing blast that the brute’s owner sold him the next day for a Mexican hairless dog.”
Nor did Mark’s “geysers of profanity” cease spouting after these gay and youthful days in San Francisco. With Clemens it may truly be said that profanity was an art—a pyrotechnic art that entertained nations.
“It was my duty to keep buttons on his shirts,” recalled Katy Leary, life-long housekeeper and friend in the Clemens menage, “and he’d swear something terrible if I didn’t. If he found a shirt in his drawer without a button on, he’d take every single shirt out of that drawer and throw them right out of the window, rain or shine—out of the bathroom window they’d go. I used to look out every morning to see the snowflakes—anything white. Out they’d fly.... Oh! he’d swear at anything when he was on a rampage. He’d swear at his razor if it didn’t cut right, and Mrs. Clemens used to send me around to the bathroom door sometimes to knock and ask him what was the matter. Well, I’d go and knock; I’d say, ‘Mrs. Clemens wants to know what’s the matter.’ And then he’d say to me (kind of low) in a whisper like, ’Did she hear me Katy?’ ‘Yes,’ I’d say, ‘every word.’ Oh, well, he was ashamed then, he was afraid of getting scolded for swearing like that, because Mrs. Clemens hated swearing.” But his swearing never seemed really bad to Katy Leary, “It was sort of funny, and a part of him, somehow,” she said. “Sort of amusing it was—and gay—not like real swearing, ’cause he swore like an angel.”
In his later years at Stormfield Mark loved to play his favorite billiards. “It was sometimes a wonderful and fearsome thing to watch Mr. Clemens play billiards,” relates Elizabeth Wallace. “He loved the game, and he loved to win, but he occasionally made a very bad stroke, and then the varied, picturesque, and unorthodox vocabulary, acquired in his more youthful years, was the only thing that gave him comfort. Gently, slowly, with no profane inflexions of voice, but irresistibly as though they had the headwaters of the Mississippi for their source, came this stream of unholy adjectives and choice expletives.”