SAN FRANCISCO LETTER [written Dec. 23, 1865]
I spoke to you a day or two ago about the terrific panorama with which the proprietors of the new swimming baths out at South Park have glorified the ample front of their building by way of a sign. It never entered my head that any one's modesty would be shocked by that distressing caricature, but we live to learn, and I was mistaken. Some of the citizens of that vicinage complain that the picture is obscene, and they have taken steps to present it before the proper authorities as a nuisance! Oh, but this is air-drawn delicacy!
The dreadful picture is about thirty feet long and eight or ten feet wide. It is painted in defiance of all rules of art and the possibilities of nature. It represents a square tank as large as a plaza, and surrounded by long bulkheads of highly ornamental bath-room doors, after the fashion of steamboat cabin architecture. At one end a fountain squirts a vast spray of water into the air. Here and there men are seen jumping from spring-boards into the great tank; other men are swimming about in all sorts of attitudes except natural and passable ones. Two bald-headed patriarchs are skylarking around a small boat like a pair of schoolboys. Expensively dressed men are seen coming in to bathe, and other expensively dressed gentlemen are seen leaving the place after having performed their ablutions. The swimmers are the ones the fastidious South Parkers object to. Yet they make exactly the same appearance in that picture that daring equestrians and acrobats do in the circus bills. They are dressed about the loins in an exceedingly short pair of pantaloons, and the remainder of their bodies is naked or clad in tights-- it is impossible to determine which. Their legs look like prize carrots, though this is not a good flesh color; wherefore I think the bath man will be able to demonstrate, on his trial, that his model artists are necessarily dressed in tights, since nature never painted human legs of such a preposterous color. This will establish the fact that his sign is not indelicate, and he will be allowed to go free and be no further molested. You only need to look once at that barbarous piece of mud-daubing to appreciate the absurdity of any one's modesty being offended by it. I have no doubt all those who are complaining of this sign went to see the Menken play Mazeppa in her much scantier attire, and blushed not.
[SHOOTING - text not currently available]
A Mr. P. M. Scoofy, of this city, has been raising oysters for two years past, on the Mexican coast, and his first harvest - eight tons - arrived yesterday on the John L. Stephens. They arrived in admirable condition - finer and fatter than they were when they started; for oysters enjoy traveling, and thrive on it; and they learn a good deal more on a flying trip than George Marshall did, and nearly as much as some other Washoe European tourists I could mention, but they are dignified and do not gabble about it so much. I would rather have the society of a traveled oyster than that of George Marshall, because I would not hesitate to show my displeasure if that oyster were to suddenly become gay and talkative, and say: "I was in England, you know, by G-- ; I went up to Liverpool and there I took the cars and went to London, by _____ _____; I been in Pall Mall, and Cheapside, and Whitefriars, and all them places - been in all of 'em: I been in the Tower of London, and seen all them d--d armors and things they used to wear in an early day; I hired a feller for a shil'n', and he took me all around there and showed me the whole hell-fired arrangement, you know, by G--; and I give him a glass of of'n-of, as they call it, and he jus' froze to me. You show one of them fellers the color of a bit, and he'll stay with you all day, by _____ _____. And I went to Rome - that ain't no slouch of a town, you know - and old? _____ _____! you bet your life. There ain't anything like it in this country - you can't put up any idea how it is; you can't tell a d--d thing about Rome 'thout you see it, by . And I been to Paris - Parree, French call it - you never hear them say Parriss - they would laugh if they was to hear any body call it Parriss, you know. I was there three weeks. I was on the Pong-Nuff, and I been to the Pal-lay Ro-yoll and the Tweeleree, all them d--d places, and the Boolyver and the Boys dee Bullone. I stood there in the Boys dee Bullone and see old Loois Napoleon and his wife come by in his carrage - I was as close to him as from here to that counter there, by G--; I see him take his hat off and bow to them whoopin' French bilks by _____ _____; I stood right there that close - as close as that counter when he went by; I was close enough to a spit in his face if I'd been a mind to, by . Hell, a feller might live here a million years, and what would he ever see, by G-d. Parree's the place - style, there, you know - people got money, there, by _____ _____. Let's take a drink, by G--." I wouldn't let a traveled oyster inflict that sort of thing on me, you understand, and refer to the Deity, and to the Savior by his full name, to verify every other important statement. I would rather have the oyster's company than Marshall's when his reminiscences are big within him, but the moment I received the information that "I been to Europe, and all them places, by G--," I would start that oyster on a joumey that would astonish it more than all the wonders of "Parree" and "all them d--d places" combined.
I have forgotten what I was going to say about Mr. Scoofy and his Mexican oyster farm, but it don't matter. The main thing is that he will hereafter endeavor to keep this market supplied with his delicious marine fruit; and another great point is that his Mexican oysters are as far superior to the poor little insipid things we are accustomed to here, as is the information furnished by Alexander Von Humboldt concerning foreign lands to that which one may glean from George Marshall in the course of a brief brandy-punch tournament.
SPIRIT OF THE LOCAL PRESS
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! That sense of conferring benefit, profit and innocent pleasure upon one's fellow-creatures which is so cheering, so calmly blissful to the plodding pilgrim here below, is his, every day in the year. When he gets up in the morning he can do as old Franklin did, and say, "This day, and all days, shall be unselfishly devoted to the good of my fellow-creatures - to the amelioration of their condition - to the conferring of happiness upon them - to the storing of their minds with wisdom which shall fit them for their struggle with the hard world, here, and for the enjoyment of a glad eternity hereafter. And thus striving, so shall I be blessed!" And when he goes home at night, he can exult and say: "Through the labors of these hands and this brain, which God hath given me, blessed and wise are my fellow-creatures this day!
"I have told them of the wonder of the swindling of the friend of Bain, the unknown Bain from Petaluma Creek, by the obscure Catharine McCarthy, out of $300 - and told it with entertaining verbosity in half a column.
"I have told them that Christmas is coming, and people go strangely about, buying things - I have said it in forty lines.
"I related how a vile burglar entered a house to rob, and actually went away again when he found he was discovered. I told it briefly, in thirty-five lines.
"In forty lines I told how a man swindled a Chinaman out of a couple of shirts, and for fear the matter might seem trivial, I made a pretense of only having mentioned it in order to base upon it a criticism upon a grave defect in our laws.
"I fulminated again, in a covert way, the singular conceit that Christmas is at hand, and said people were going about in the most unaccountable way buying stuff to eat, in the markets - 52 lines.
"I glorified a fearful conflagration that came so near burning something, that I shudder even now to think of it. Three thousand dollars worth of goods destroyed by water - a man then went up and put out the fire with a bucket of water. I puffed our fine fire organization - 64 lines.
"I printed some other extraordinary occurrences - runaway horse - 28 lines; dog fight - 30 lines; Chinaman captured by officer Rose for stealing chickens - 90 lines; unknown Chinaman dead on Sacramento steamer - 5 lines; several 'Fourteener' items, concerning people frightened and boots stolen - 52 lines; case of soldier stealing a washboard worth fifty cents - three-quarters of a column. Much other wisdom I disseminated, and for these things let my reward come hereafter."
And his reward will come hereafter - and I am sorry enough to think it. But such startling things do happen every day in this strange city! - and how dangerously exciting must be the employment of writing them up for the daily papers!
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["Another Enterprise" and "Spirit of the Local Press" reprinted in The Works of Mark Twain; Early Tales & Sketches, Vol. 2 1864-1865, (Univ. of California Press, 1981), pp. 414-18.] Available from amazon.com. "Extraordinary Delicacy" reprinted in Mark Twain: San Francisco Correspondent, (Book Club of California, 1957), p. 52-3.]
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