(p.6) This is the Mark Twain people love to quote (“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.” “A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way”), and whenever he hits his stride in the “Autobiography,” you feel happy for him — e.g., writing about Virginia City, Nev., in 1863:
“I secured a place in a nearby quartz (p. 7) mill to screen sand with a long-handled shovel. I hate a long-handled shovel. I never could learn to swing it properly. As often as any other way the sand didn’t reach the screen at all, but went over my head and down my back, inside of my clothes. It was the most detestable work I have ever engaged in, but it paid ten dollars a week and board — and the board was worthwhile, because it consisted not only of bacon, beans, coffee, bread and molasses, but we had stewed dried apples every day in the week just the same as if it were Sunday. But this palatial life, this gross and luxurious life, had to come to an end, and there were two sufficient reasons for it. On my side, I could not endure the heavy labor; and on the Company’s side, they did not feel justified in paying me to shovel sand down my back; so I was discharged just at the moment that I was going to resign.”
For the full review, see:
GARRISON KEILLOR. “Riverboat Rambler.” The New York Times Book Review (Sun., December 19, 2010): 1, 6-7.
(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 16, 2010, and had the title “Mark Twain’s Riverboat Ramblings.” )
The book under review, is:
Smith, Harriet Elinor, ed. Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.