He Left His Harte

Bret Harte wrote these dispatches for The Christian Register in Boston and The Republican in Springfield, Mass.

A photo of Bret Harte's fiction chronicled the colorful lives of gamblers and miners during the California Gold Rush.
Bret Harte’s fiction chronicled the colorful lives of gamblers and miners during the California Gold Rush.

His friend (and later foe) Mark Twain is better known, but Bret Harte (1836-1902) was a similarly important figure in California literature as a chronicler of 19th century life and teller of tales, most notably “The Luck of Roaring Camp.” Like Twain, Harte was a frequent correspondent to newspapers in the East, sending them stories of the rapidly civilizing California frontier. He wrote these dispatches for The Christian Register in Boston and The Republican in Springfield, Mass.

MARCH 1866

The California spring is … unlike any other season. It does not change into summer, neither is it perennial; its budding youth never develops into maturity and fruition, but is protracted throughout the year in a kind of withered, unprofitable virginity that gets to be very shrill and shrewish toward the close. When it ends finally, it does not fade away with the hectic flush and consumptive beauty of an Eastern autumn; it dies of atrophy with all the Hippocratic sighs of dissolution — cavernous, sunken, rigid, colorless and cold. If I am somewhat voluble on this subject … it is because I feel strongly. Having tried for twelve years to appreciate this remarkable climate, I am anxious to give some good reason for my failure.

APRIL 5, 1866

The earthquake which visited this coast on [March] 26th … was, on the whole, a rather good-humored affair. … The late shock was felt generally throughout the state, although the interior papers, with provincial jealousy, intimate that it was more severe in San Francisco than elsewhere, and that that metropolis aggrandized even this impartial convulsion as she does everything else. … Familiarity with earthquakes does not beget contempt — there is surprising freshness and novelty in each new alarm.

JUNE 11, 1866

Is the climate of California changing? is the question now generally asked. The late unprecedented rains, the lowering and clouded skies, the alternations of heat and cold so unlike our usual clear and equable — though not exactly romantic — spring weather seems to indicate a radical change in the climate. … We seem to have borrowed the uncertainty and capriciousness of your climate without parting with the disagreeable features of our own.

AUG. 30, 1866

The sea, which is the Hygean goddess of San Francisco, has been subjecting us to heroic treatment for the ills peculiar to this epidemic season. Our population have been put through the packing process, and the wet fog-blankets are still hanging from the outer walls. In fact, the weather is a little overdone, as is everything in this queer climate.

FEB. 28, 1867

In this remarkable country we seem to exist by comparison and depreciation of the universe outside of the Pacific coast. The first question asked a stranger is not, as incorrectly stated, “How do you like California?” but “Isn’t this superior to so-and-so?”

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