Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/21

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3
Life in the West

"In that brief, sharp schooling," he wrote many years later, "I got personally and familiarly acquainted with all the different types of human nature that are to be found in fiction, biography, or history. When I find a well-drawn character in fiction or biography, I generally take a warm personal interest in him, for the reason that I have known him before—met him on the river."


This chapter of his experience was ended abruptly by the outbreak of the Civil War and the closing of the river. His brief and inglorious part in the ensuing conflict he has described, with decorations, in his Private History of a Campaign that Failed, a little work which indicates that he rushed to the aid of the Confederacy without much conviction, and that two weeks later he rushed away with still less regret. Eventually, it should be remarked, General Grant became his greatest living hero, and his attitude towards slavery became as passionately Northern as that of Mrs. Stowe.

Meanwhile he went West. On 26 July, 1861 , he was sitting on the mail-bags behind the six galloping horses of the overland stage headed for Carson City, Nevada, as assistant to his brother Orion, who through the good offices of a friend in Lincoln's cabinet had been appointed Territorial secretary. On his arrival, finding himself without salary or duties, he explored the mining camps and caught the prevailing passion for huge quick wealth. First he bought "wild-cat" stock; then he located a vast timber claim on Lake Tahoe; then he tried quartz mining in the silver regions; prospected for gold in the placer country; and, in daily expectation of striking it fabulously rich, sank his brother's salary in the most promising "leads."

That his claims did not "pan out" well is clear from his accepting in 1862 a position as local reporter for the Virginia City Enterprise at twenty-five dollars a week, having commended himself to the editor by a series of letters signed "Josh." Thus began his literary career. In reporting for this paper the sessions of the Legislature at Carson City he first employed the signature "Mark Twain," a name previously used by a pilot-correspondent of the New Orleans Picayune but ultimately commemorating the leadsman's cry on the Mississippi. His effervescent spirits, excited by the stirring and heroically con-