For both these men the future held splendid gifts: for Mackay vast wealth, for Mark Twain the world’s applause, and neither would have long to wait.
ARTEMUS WARD AND LITERARY SAN FRANCISCO
It was about the end of 1863 that a new literary impulse came into Mark Twain’s life. The gentle and lovable humorist Artemus Ward (Charles F. Browne) was that year lecturing in the West, and came to Virginia City. Ward had intended to stay only a few days, but the whirl of the Comstock fascinated him. He made the “Enterprise” office his headquarters and remained three weeks. He and Mark Twain became boon companions. Their humor was not unlike; they were kindred spirits, together almost constantly. Ward was then at the summit of his fame, and gave the younger man the highest encouragement, prophesying great things for ha work. Clemens, on his side, was stirred, perhaps for the first time, with a real literary ambition, and the thought that he, too, might win a place of honor. He promised Ward that he would send work to the Eastern papers.
On Christmas Eve, Ward gave a dinner to the “Enterprise” staff, at Chaumond’s, a fine French restaurant of that day. When refreshments came, Artemus lifted his glass, and said:
“I give you Upper Canada.”
The company rose and drank the toast in serious silence. Then Mr. Goodman said:
“Of course, Artemus, it’s all right, but why did you give us Upper Canada?”
“Because I don’t want it myself,” said Ward, gravely.
What would one not give to have listened to the talk of that evening! Mark Twain’s power had awakened; Artemus Ward was in his prime. They were giants of a race that became extinct when Mark Twain died.
Goodman remained rather quiet during the evening. Ward had appointed him to order the dinner, and he had attended to this duty without mingling much in the conversation. When Ward asked him why he did not join the banter, he said:
“I am preparing a joke, Artemus, but I am keeping it for the present.”
At a late hour Ward finally called for the bill. It was two hundred and thirty-seven dollars.
“What!” exclaimed Artemus.
“That’s my joke,” said Goodman.
“But I was only exclaiming because it was not twice as much,” laughed Ward, laying the money on the table.
Ward remained through the holidays, and later wrote back an affectionate letter to Mark Twain.
“I shall always remember Virginia as a bright spot in my existence,” he said, “as all others must, or rather, cannot be, as it were.”
With Artemus Ward’s encouragement, Mark Twain now began sending work eastward. The “New York Sunday Mercury” published one, possibly more, of his sketches, but they were not in his best vein, and made little impression. He may have been too busy for outside work, for the legislative session of 1864 was just beginning. Furthermore, he had been chosen governor of the “Third House,” a mock legislature, organized for one session, to be held as a church benefit. The “governor” was to deliver a message, which meant that he was to burlesque from the platform all public officials and personages, from the real governor down.