The Jumping Frog

At the start of the Civil War, Samuel Clemens lost his job as a steamboat pilot and travelled west to Nevada and California. He pieced together a ramshackle existence by prospecting for silver, mining for gold, and working as a local reporter and correspondent selling sketches and essays—by Mark Twain—to several newspapers and magazines.

In 1865, the nearly destitute Clemens spent three months in the California mining camps of Jackass Hill and Angel’s Camp with Jim and William Gillis and their partner, Dick Stoker. It was there that he first heard of the “jumping frog”—the story that launched his literary career.

Upon his return to San Francisco from the camps, Clemens received an invitation from the popular American humorist, Artemus Ward, to contribute a sketch to his forthcoming travel book about the Nevada Territory. Mark Twain’s story arrived too late to be included in the volume, but Ward’s publisher, George W. Carleton, forwarded the submission to Henry Clapp, who first published it as “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog” in the Saturday Press in New York on November 18, 1865. It was immediately reprinted in newspapers and periodicals across the country, including an unauthorized appearance in a Beadle’s Dime Book, the popular and inexpensive fiction series that anticipated today’s mass market paperback books.

Just over a year later, Webb would collect and edit sketches from Clemens’s scrapbooks of newspaper clippings and publish them in Mark Twain’s first book, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and Other Sketches.

Mark Twain. Autograph letter signed to Jim Gillis on the jumping frog. Elmira, New York, January 26, 1870.
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In this letter to Jim Gillis, Clemens combines reminiscences of his gold-mining days with a description of the source and success of his first book, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. Clemens also includes an announcement of his forthcoming marriage to Olivia L. Langdon and cordially invites his friends to visit them: “Remember me to the boys—& recollect, Jim, that whenever you or Dick shall chance to stumble into Buffalo, we shall always have a knife & fork for you, & an honest welcome.”

From the collection of Susan Jaffe Tane

[Mark Twain.] Beadle’s Dime No. 3 Book of Fun. New York: Beadle, 1866.

Erastus Beadle began publishing his inexpensive, short, paperback novels in 1860. By 1865 American readers had purchased almost five million of his books. Beadle’s Dime No. 3 included an abbreviated and unauthorized version of “Jim Smiley’s Frog” story, only the second appearance of Mark Twain’s work in book form.

From the collection of Susan Jaffe Tane

Mark Twain. The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches. New York: C. H. Webb, 1867. First edition, first printing.

“The Celebrated Jumping Frog” story made Mark Twain’s reputation. John Paul (publisher Charles Henry Webb), the book’s editor, writes: “By his story of the Frog, he scaled the heights of popularity at a single jump, and won for himself the sobriquet of The Wild Humorist of the Pacific Slope.”

From the collection of Susan Jaffe Tane

Mark Twain. The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches. London: George Routledge and Sons, 1867. Unauthorized first London edition.

On the back cover: “The CELEBRATED JUMPING FROG and its companions may be heartily recommended to any one who is capable of appreciating humor, or enjoying a good laugh. There are not many of these sketches which could be read by the most confirmed of hypochondriacs with an unmoved countenance; and not one of them which might not be read aloud, without missing a word, by the most fastidious mother to a family circle.”—Saturday Review, August 24, 1867.

From the collection of Susan Jaffe Tane

Mark Twain. “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” In The Californian. San Francisco, December 16, 1865.
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A month after the “jumping frog” story was first published in New York, it appeared in Charles Henry Webb’s San Francisco literary weekly, The Californian.

From the collection of Susan Jaffe Tane

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