That his own writing would be influenced by the simple grandeur of this poem we can hardly doubt. Indeed, it may have been to him a sort of literary touchstone, that in time would lead him to produce, as has been said, some of the purest English written by any modern author.
It was once when Goodman and Clemens were dining together that the latter asked to be allowed to report the proceedings of the coming legislature at Carson City. He knew nothing of such work, and Goodman hesitated. Then, remembering that Clemens would, at least, make his reports readable, whether they were parliamentary or not, he consented.
So, at the beginning of the year (1863), Samuel Clemens undertook a new and interesting course in the study of human nature—the political human nature of the frontier. There could have been no better school for him. His wit, his satire, his phrasing had full swing—his letters, almost from the beginning, were copied as choice reading up and down the Coast. He made curious blunders, at first, as to the proceedings, but his open confession of ignorance in the early letters made these blunders their chief charm. A young man named Gillespie, clerk of the House, coached him, and in return was christened “Young Jefferson’s Manual,” a title which he bore for many years.
A reporter named Rice, on a rival Virginia City paper, the “Union,” also earned for himself a title through those early letters.
Rice concluded to poke fun at the “Enterprise” reports, pointing out their mistakes. But this was not wise. Clemens, in his next contribution, admitted that Rice’s reports might be parliamentary enough, but declared his glittering technicalities were only to cover misstatements of fact. He vowed they were wholly untrustworthy, dubbed the author of them “The Unreliable,” and never thereafter referred to him by any other term. Carson and the Comstock papers delighted in this foolery, and Rice became “The Unreliable” for life. There was no real feeling between Rice and Clemens. They were always the best of friends.
But now we arrive at the story of still another name, one of vastly greater importance than either of those mentioned, for it is the name chosen by Samuel Clemens for himself. In those days it was the fashion for a writer to have a pen-name, especially for his journalistic and humorous work. Clemens felt that his “Enterprise” letters, copied up and down the Coast, needed a mark of identity.
He gave the matter a good deal of thought. He wanted something brief and strong—something that would stick in the mind. It was just at this time that news came of the death of Capt. Isaiah Sellers, the old pilot who had signed himself “Mark Twain.” Mark Twain! That was the name he wanted. It was not trivial. It had all the desired qualities. Captain Sellers would never need it again. It would do no harm to keep it alive —to give it a new meaning in a new land. Clemens took a trip from Carson up to Virginia City.