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Auction 12: The Zamorano 80 Collection of Daniel G. Volkmann Jr.

Lot 18

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Item 18. Twain’s Roughing It—“Twain’s great book on life in California” (Hanna).

18. CLEMENS, Samuel L[anghorne] (1835-1910). Roughing It by Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens.).... Hartford: American Publishing Company, etc., 1872. xviii [19]-591 [1, ad] pp., 2 engraved frontispieces, 6 engraved plates, numerous text illustrations by True W. Williams and other artists. 8vo, original dark brown gilt-pictorial cloth. Minor wear to spine tips and corners, old ink name neatly erased from front pastedown, front hinge a little weak, but overall a very good copy, the interior fine and fresh. Laid in is the typed catalogue slip of bookseller Barnet B. Ruder setting out issue points.
First American edition, state A (p. 242 with lines 20-21 reading “premises—said he/was occupying his”—Blanck notes that state A probably came first), ad on p. [592] (no priority). Adams, Guns 443. BAL 3337. Bennett, American Book Collecting, pp. 142-43. Cowan I, p. 49. Cowan II, p. 130. Graff 762. Hamilton, Early American Book Illustrators and Wood Engravers 1289. Hill, pp. 377-78. Howell 50, California 378. Howes C481: “Valuable as an autobiographical chapter in the author’s life and as a vivid portrayal of Nevada mining life in the ’60s.” Huntington Library, Zamorano 80...Exhibition of Famous and Notorious California Classics 18. Johnson, Twain, pp. 13-16. Libros Californianos, pp. 43-45 (Powell commentary): “Twain’s genius consisted in his ability to capitalize minor misfortunes common to the genus Homo which psychologists aver rather convincingly, are a sure stimulus to human risibilities...certainly this book belongs in any California library”; p. 66 (Hanna list). Norris 3978. Paher, Nevada 350: “This is one of Nevada’s all time books.” Powell, California Classics, pp. 92-102. Walker, San Francisco’s Literary Frontier, p. 324. Wright II:554. Zamorano 80 #18. The hilarious illustrations (many of which include portraits of Twain) were created by True W. Williams, a popular illustrator of the late sixties and seventies. Alfred Bigelow Paine in his Mark Twain, A Biography (New York, 1912) says of him, “Williams was a man of great talent...but it was necessary to lock him in a room when industry was required, with nothing more exciting than cold water as a beverage” (vol. 1, p. 366). ($750-1,500)


Roughing It is Sam Clemens’s massive, 600-page semi-autobiographical account of his six-year sojourn in the West. A master of understatement, he wrote in the prefatory material, “This book is merely a personal narrative.... It is a record of several years of variegated vagabondizing.” The book was his only major work to be written specifically about the West and majestically displays his amazing ability to combine humor and tall tales with serious factual reporting. Without doubt, it ranks as one of the all-time favorite American travel books and, because of its author, one of the most studied and analyzed works of Western Americana. San Francisco’s Overland Monthly reviewed the book in June 1872 noting, “His genius is characterized by the breadth, and ruggedness, and audacity of the West.” Roughing It further documents Clemens’s evolution as a writer in turning the personal narrative into an art form. Harriet Elinor Smith, in introducing the Mark Twain Project edition, explains: “The experiences described in Roughing It illuminate how the freedom and spontaneity of the frontier helped him to develop as a writer, encouraging him to experiment and cultivate a distinctive style.” Western mining historian Rodman Paul, in describing the brilliance of the book, states that it is “as if Mark Twain, with his slow drawl and casual manner were telling the story orally and extemporaneously.”
This seventy-nine-chapter journal of Western life starts with his celebrated stagecoach ride across the continent to meet up with his brother, Orion Clemens, in Nevada Territory in 1861. Along the way, he engages his reader with incredible imagery, fantastic episodes, and memorable word pictures. Exaggeration, irony, and deadpan humor permeate the text. In Nebraska, upon stopping at a stage station and seeing its sod roof, he commented that it was “the first time we had ever seen a man’s front yard on top of his house.” A stopover in Salt Lake City showcases his skepticism of that Mormon Zion. Once in Nevada, his career working for Joseph Goodman’s Virginia Territorial Enterprise blossomed as he experienced the full blast of life in the Comstock Lode. During this interlude the sagebrush journalist toured such natural wonders as Lake Tahoe and Mono Lake and unsuccessfully sought his own fortune in prospecting for gold and silver. He then went off to San Francisco, joining that city’s literary circle, headed to Jackass Hill and Angels Camp to prospect, where he learned about leaping frogs, and finally, in 1866, crossed the ocean to the exotic Sandwich Islands sending letters to the Sacramento Union.
Integrated into this sometimes disjointed, sometimes serious, sometimes factual narrative are, of course, many gems of humor. His tales and jokes succeeded admirably in taking his audience along for the ride rather than leaving them yawning in a morass of florid Victorian verbiage. The amiable review in the Overland Monthly devoted the major portion of its text to Clemens’s leg-pulling: “This is a goodly volume, of nearly six hundred pages; and if mirth is indeed one of the best medicines...Roughing It should have a place in every sick-room, and be the invalid’s cherished companion.” Just to give one example, in describing the variable weather conditions at the desolate town of Mono, he wryly commented: “When they have a Fourth of July procession it generally snows on them, and they do say that as a general thing when a man calls for a brandy toddy there, the barkeeper chops it off with a hatchet and wraps it up in a paper, like maple sugar.”
Beyond the Twainian humor and importance in documenting his development as literary powerhouse, the book is invaluable for its contribution to the history of the Washoe and Comstock Lode. He captured as well as anyone the grit and flavor of that roaring high-desert, windswept town of Virginia City. Importantly, he lived as a participant and not as an observer during the heyday of the Silver Kings, and consequently brought a unique perspective. The violence and greed in this “get rich quick” atmosphere was not glorified or excused. By his narrative, he immortalized those wild days of the “Big Bonanza” and did for the Silver State what his contemporary Bret Harte did for the Gold Rush.
These years of roughing it in the West harvested literary gold. Clemens signed a contract for a book about these adventures in July 1870 with Elisha Bliss of the American Publishing Company. The book would also serve as a companion to his other travel book, The Innocents Abroad. Once Clemens finished the manuscript, both publisher and author embarked on a full-scale publicity blitz. Bliss published several chapters in his The American Publisher, Clemens went on the lecture circuit, and subscription agents carrying prospectuses and “dummies” hit the road. Bliss offered the volume in various binding states: cloth, gilt edge, Leather Library, and half morocco. To further embellish the thick volume, some 300 wood engravings were included. On January 30, 1872, the binder delivered the first copies and by May nearly 60,000 copies had been bound. To preempt pirating, Clemens contracted with George Routledge & Sons of London to simultaneously publish an English edition. Despite not receiving widespread reviews, Roughing It managed to sell 75,000 copies the first year, and by the close of the decade, 96,000. While strong, the sales disappointed both Bliss and Clemens and it did not eclipse The Innocents Abroad in copies sold. Nonetheless, it enjoyed steady patronage, and by 1900 the first American edition had been reprinted at least ten times. More than a century later, this rollicking book of travel remains in print as a classic of Western Americana. Literary historian Patrick D. Morrow in describing the significance of Roughing It calls it the greatest work of satiric local color.”

——Gary F. Kurutz

Additional sources consulted: W. D. Howells, My Mark Twain: Reminiscences and Criticisms (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1910), pp. 113-14; Hamlin Hill, “Mark Twain’s Book Sales, 1869-1879,” Bulletin of the New York Public Library 65:6 (June 1961), pp. 376-79; Patrick D. Morrow, “Bret Harte, Mark Twain, and the San Francisco Circle,” in A Literary History of the American West (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1987), pp. 350-52; Rodman W. Paul, Introduction to Roughing It (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1953); Review in “Current Literature,” Overland Monthly (June 1872), pp. 580-81; Franklin R. Rogers, Introduction to Roughing It (Berkeley & Los Angeles: Published for the Iowa Center for Textual Studies by the University of California Press, 1972).

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