CONCERNING THE RECENT TROUBLE BETWEEN MR. MARK TWAIN AND MR. JOHN WILLIAM SKAE, OF VIRGINIA CITY - WHEREIN IT IS ATTEMPTED TO BE PROVED THAT THE FORMER WAS NOT TO BLAME IN THE MATTER.
Mysterious. - Our esteemed friend, Mr. John William Skae, of Virginia City, walked into our office at a late hour last night with an expression of profound and heartfelt suffering upon his countenance, and sighing heavily, laid the following item reverently upon the desk and walked slowly out again. He paused a moment at the door and seemed struggling to command his feelings sufficiently to enable him to speak, and then, nodding his head toward his manuscript, ejaculated in a broken voice, "Friend of mine - Oh how sad!" and burst into tears. We were so moved at his distress that we did not think to call him back and endeavor to comfort him until he was gone and it was too late. Our paper had already gone to press, but knowing that our friend would consider the publication of this item important, and cherishing the hope that to print it would afford a melancholy satisfaction to his sorrowing heart, we stopped the press at once and inserted it in our columns:
Distressing Accident. - Last evening about 6 o'clock, as Mr. William Schuyler, an old and respectable citizen of South Park, was leaving his residence to go down town, as has been his usual custom for many years, with the exception only of a short interval in the Spring of 1850 during which he was confined to his bed by injuries received in attempting to stop a runaway horse by thoughtlessly placing himself directly in its wake and throwing up his hands and shouting, which, if he had done so even a single moment sooner must inevitably have frightened the animal still more instead of checking its speed, although disastrous enough to himself as it was, and rendered more melancholy and distressing by reason of the presence of his wife's mother, who was there and saw the sad occurrence, notwithstanding it is at least likely, though not necessarily so, that she should be reconnoitering in another direction when incidents occur, not being vivacious and on the lookout, as a general thing, but even the reverse, as her own mother is said to have stated, who is no more, but died in the full hope of a glorious resurrection, upwards of three years ago, aged 86, being a Christian woman and without guile, as it were, or property, in consequence of the fire of 1849, which destroyed every blasted thing she had in the world. But such is life. Let us all take warning by this solemn occurrence, and let us endeavor so to conduct ourselves that when we come to die we can do it. Let us place our hands upon our hearts and say with earnestness and sincerity that from this day forth we will beware of the intoxicating bowl. - First Edition of the Californian.
(SECOND EDITION OF THE CALIFORNIAN.)
THE boss-editor has been in here raising the very mischief, and tearing his hair and kicking the furniture about, and abusing me like a pick-pocket. He says that every time he leaves me in charge of the paper for half an hour I get imposed upon by the first infant or the first idiot that comes along. And he says that distressing item of Johnny Skae's is nothing but a lot of distressing bosh, and has got no point to it, and no sense in it, and no information in it, and that there was no earthly necessity for stopping the press to publish it. He says every man he meets has insinuated that somebody about THE CALIFORNIAN office has gone crazy.
Now all this comes of being good-hearted. If I had been as unaccommodating and unsympathetic as some people, I would have told Johnny Skae that I wouldn't receive his communication at such a late hour, and to go to blazes with it - but no, his snuffling distress touched my heart, and I jumped at the chance of doing something to modify his misery. I never read his item to see whether there was anything wrong about it, but hastily wrote the few lines which preceded it and sent it to the printers. And what has my kindness done for me? It has done nothing but bring down upon me a storm of abuse and ornamental blasphemy.
Now I will just read that item myself, and see if there is any foundation for all this fuss. And if there is, the author of it shall hear from me.
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I have read it, and I am bound to admit that it seems a little mixed at a first glance. However, I will peruse it once more.
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I have read it again, and it does really seem a good deal more mixed than ever.
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I have read it over five times, but if I can get at the meaning of it, I wish I may get my just deserts. It won't bear analysis. There are things about it which I cannot understand at all. It don't say what ever became of William Schuyler. It just says enough about him to get one interested in his career, and then drops him. Who is William Schuyler, anyhow, and what part of South Park did he live in? and if he started down town at six o'clock, did he ever get there? and if he did, did anything happen to him? is he the individual that met with the "distressing accident?" Considering the elaborate circumstantiality of detail observable in the item, it seems to me that it ought to contain more information than it does. On the contrary, it is obscure - and not only obscure but utterly incomprehensible. Was the breaking of Mr. Schuyler's leg fifteen years ago the "distressing accident" that plunged Mr. Skae into unspeakable grief, and caused him to come up here at dead of night and stop our press to acquaint the world with the unfortunate circumstance? Or did the "distressing accident" consist in the destruction of Schuyler's mother-in-law's property in early times? or did it consist in the death of that person herself 3 years ago, (albeit it does not appear that she died by accident?) In a word, what did that "distressing accident" consist in? What did that driveling ass of a Schuyler stand in the wake of a runaway horse for, with his shouting and gesticulating, if he wanted to stop him? And how the mischief could he get run over by a horse that had already passed beyond him? And what are we to "take warning" by? and how is this extraordinary chapter of incomprehensibilities going to be a "lesson" to us? And above all, what has the "intoxicating bowl" got to do with it, anyhow? It is not stated that Schuyler drank, or that his wife drank, or that his mother-in-law drank, or that the horse drank - wherefore, then, the reference to the intoxicating bowl? It does seem to me that if Mr. Skae had let the intoxicating bowl alone himself, he never would have got into so much trouble about this infernal imaginary distressing accident. I have read his absurd item over and over again, with all its insinuating plausibility, until my head swims, but I can make neither head nor tail of it. There certainly seems to have been an accident of some kind or other, but it is impossible to determine what the nature of it was, or who was the sufferer by it. I do not like to do it, but I feel compelled to request that the next time anything happens to one of Mr. Skae's friends, he will append such explanatory notes to his account of it as will enable me to find out what sort of an accident it was and who it happened to. I had rather all his friends should die than that I should be driven to the verge of lunacy again in trying to cipher out the meaning of another such production as the above.
But now, after all this fuss that has been made by the chief cook about this item, I do not see that it is any more obscure than the general run of local items in the daily papers after all. You don't usually find out much by reading local items, and you don't in the case of Johnny Skae's item. But it is just THE CALIFORNIAN's Style to be so disgustingly particular and so distressingly hypercritical. If Stiggers throws off one of his graceful little jokes, ten to one THE CALIFORNIAN will come out the very next Saturday and find fault with it, because there ain't any point to it - find fault with it because there is no place in it where you can laugh - find fault with it because a man feels humiliated after reading it. They don't appear to know how to discriminate. They don't appear to understand that there are different kinds of jokes, and that Stiggers' jokes may be of that kind. No; they give a man no credit for originality - for striking out into new paths and opening up new domains of humor; they overlook all that, and just cramp an Alta joke down to their own narrow and illiberal notion of what a joke ought to be, and then if they find it hasn't got any point to it, they turn up their noses and say it isn't any joke at all. I do despise such meanness.
And they are just the same way with the Flag's poetry. They never stop to reflect that the author may be striking out into new fields of poetry - no; they simply say, "Stuff! this poem's got no sense in it; and it hasn't got any rhyme to it to speak of; and there is no more rhythm about it than there is to a Chinese oration" - and then, just on this evidence alone, they presume to say it's not poetry at all.
And so with the Call's grammar. If the local of the Call gets to branching out into new and aggravating combinations of words and phrases, they don't stop to think that maybe he is humbly trying to start something fresh in English composition and thus make his productions more curious and entertaining - not they; they just bite into him at once, and say he isn't writing grammar. And why? We repeat: And why? Why, merely because he don't choose to be the slave of their notions and Murray's.
And just so with the Bulletin's country correspondents. Because one of those mild and unoffending dry-goods clerks with his hair parted in the middle writes down to the Bulletin in a column and a half how he took the stage for Calistoga; and paid his fare; and got his change; stating the amount of the same; and that he had thought it would be more; but unpretentiously intimates that it could be a matter of no consequence to him one way or the other; and then goes on to tell about who he found at the Springs; and who he treated; and who treated him; and proceeds to give the initials of all the ladies of quality sojourning there; and does it in such a way as to conceal, as far as possible, how much they dote on his society; and then tells how he took a bath; and how the soap escaped from his fingers; and describes with infinite humor the splashing and scrambling he had to go through with before he got it again; and tells how he took a breezy gallop in the early morning at 9 A. M. with Gen. E. B. G.'s charming and accomplished daughter, and how the two, with souls overcharged with emotions too deep for utterance, beheld the glorious sun bathing the eastern hills with the brilliant magnificence of his truly gorgeous splendor, thus recalling to them tearful reminiscences of other scenes and other climes, when their hearts were young and as yet unseared by the cold clammy hand of the vain, heartless world-dreaming thus, in blissful unconsciousness, he of the stream of ants travelling up his body and down the back of his neck, and she of the gallinipper sucking the tip-end of her nose - because one of these inoffensive pleasure-going correspondents writes all this to the Bulletin, I say, THE CALIFORNIAN gets irritated and acrimonious in a moment, and says it is the vilest bosh in the world; and says there is nothing important about it, and wonders who in the nation cares if that fellow did ride in the stage, and pay his fare, and take a bath, and see the sun rise up and slobber over the eastern hills four hours after daylight; and asks with withering scorn, "Well, what does it all amount to?" and wants to know who is any wiser now than he was before he read the long winded correspondence; and intimates that the Bulletin had better be minding the commercial interests of the land than afflicting the public with such wishy-washy trash. That is just the style of THE CALIFORNIAN. No correspondence is good enough for its hypercritical notions unless it has got something in it. The CALIFORNIAN sharps don't stop to consider that maybe that disbanded clerk was up to something - that maybe he was sifting around after some new realm or other in literature - that maybe perhaps he was trying to get something through his head - well, they don't stop to consider anything; they just say, because it is trivial, and awkwardly written, and stupid, and devoid of information, that it is Bosh, and that is the end of it! THE CALIFORNIAN hates originality - that is the whole thing in a nutshell. They know it all. They are the only authority - and if they don't like a thing, why of course it won't do. Certainly not. Now who but THE CALIFORNIAN would ever have found fault with Johnny Skae's item. No daily paper in town would, anyhow. It is after the same style, and is just as good, and as interesting and as luminous as the articles published every day in the city papers. It has got all the virtues that distinguish those articles and render them so acceptable to the public. It is not obtrusively pointed, and in this it resembles the jokes of Stiggers; it warbles smoothly and easily along, without rhyme or rhythm or reason, like the Flag's poetry; the eccentricity of its construction is appalling to the grammatical student, and in this it rivals the happiest achievements of the Call; it furnishes the most laborious and elaborate details to the eye without transmitting any information whatever to the understanding, and in this respect it will bear comparison with the most notable specimens of the Bulletin's country correspondence; and finally, the mysterious obscurity that curtains its general intent and meaning could not be surpassed by all the newspapers in town put together.
(THIRD EDITION OF THE CALIFORNIAN.)
More trouble. The chief hair-splitter has been in here again raising a dust. It appears that Skae's item has disseminated the conviction that there has been a distressing accident somewhere, of some kind or other, and the people are exasperated at the agonizing uncertainty of the thing. Some have it that the accident happened to Schuyler; others say that inasmuch as Schuyler disappeared in the first clause of the item, it must have been the horse; again, others say that inasmuch as the horse disappeared in the second clause without having up to that time sustained any damage, it must have been Schuyler's wife; but others say that inasmuch as she disappeared in the third clause all right and was never mentioned again, it must have been the old woman, Schuyler's mother-in-law; still others say that inasmuch as the old woman died three years ago, and not necessarily by accident, it is too late in the day to mention it now, and so it must have been the house; but others sneer at the latter idea, and say if the burning of the house sixteen years ago was so "distressing" to Schuyler, why didn't he wait fifty years longer before publishing the incident, and then maybe he could bear it easier. But there is trouble abroad, at any rate. People are satisfied that there has been an accident, and they are furious because they cannot find out who it has happened to. They are ridiculously unreasonable. They say they don't know who Schuyler is, but that's neither here nor there - if anything has happened to him they are going to know all about it or somebody has got to suffer.
That is just what it has come to - personal violence. And it is all bred
out of that snivelling lunatic's coming in here at midnight, and enlisting
my sympathies with his infamous imaginary misfortune, and making me publish
his wool-gathering nonsense. But this is throwing away time. Something has
got to be done. There has got to be an accident in the Schuyler family,
and that without any unnecessary delay. Nothing else will satisfy the public.
I don't know any man by the name of Schuyler, but I will go out and hunt
for one. All I want now is a Schuyler. And I am bound to have a Schuyler
if I have to take Schuyler Colfax. If I can only get hold of a Schuyler,
I will take care of the balance of the programme - will see that an accident
happens to him as soon as possible. And failing this, I will try and furnish
a disaster to the stricken Skae.