Twain on California

Mark Twain's California, in his own words

Portrait photograph of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, more popularly known as Mark Twain, seated, reading a newspaper.
Portrait photograph of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, more popularly known as Mark Twain, seated, reading a newspaper.
CHARLES E. BOLLES

During the period 1862-68, Mark Twain penned several letters for publications both from California and to California newspapers, including the original Alta California, the Territorial Enterprise and others. For about two of those years, he lived in California, mostly in San Francisco. Here is a sample of those letters:

LETTER TO THE TERRITORIAL ENTERPRISE,
DEC. 23, 1865

San Francisco is a city of startling events. Happy is the man whose destiny it is to gather them up and record them in a daily newspaper!

LETTER TO THE TERRITORIAL ENTERPRISE,
JUNE 1864

The multitude of pleasant things by which the people of San Francisco are surrounded are not talked of at all. No — they damn the wind, and they damn the dust, and they give all their attention to damning them well, and to all eternity.

LETTER, “THE GREAT EARTHQUAKE IN SAN FRANCISCO,” TO NEW YORK WEEKLY REVIEW,
NOV. 25, 1865

I will set it down here as a maxim that the operations of the human intellect are much accelerated by an earthquake . . . There is nothing like an earthquake to hurry a man when he starts to go anywhere.

LETTER FROM NEW YORK TO ALTA CALIFORNIA,
MAY 19, 1867

California wines are coming more and more into favor here in the East, and are to be found on sale pretty much everywhere. I see the sign about as often as I see the signs for shoe stores or candy shops. The Catawba wines had a great hold on public favor several years ago, but it seems to be conceded now that all native American brands must yield precedence to the California wines.

LETTER TO ALTA CALIFORNIA,
DEC. 15, 1866

I am now about to bid farewell to San Francisco . . . while I linger here upon the threshold of this, my new home, to say to you, my kindest and my truest friends, a warm good-bye and an honest peace and prosperity attend you . . .

I read the signs of the times, and I, that am no prophet, behold the things that are in store for you. Over slumbering California is stealing the dawn of a radiant future! . . . Has any other State so brilliant a future? Has any other city a future like San Francisco?

LETTER TO ALTA CALIFORNIA,
DEC. 20, 1866

“Good-bye, my lad, take care of yourself!” I wrung the hands of Jones, Smith, and Thompson, again, and again they disappeared through the human commotion, to repeat their farewells with other friends at the other end of the ship. I turned toward the crowd on shore again, and neatly dodged an apple discharged at some one behind me, whose friend on shore took this method of shaking hands with him . . . And then I faced about and dodged an orange hurled from the shore — another good-bye that came near miscarrying.

 

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