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Territorial Enterprise, October 10-11, 1865

[Portion of Letter from San Francisco]



Now the Rev. Mr. Stebbins acted like a sensible man - a man with his presence of mind about him - he did precisely what I thought of doing myself at the time of the earthquake, but had no opportunity - he came down out of his pulpit and embraced a woman. Some say it was his wife. Well, and so it might have been his wife - I'm not saying it wasn't, am I? I am not going to intimate anything of that kind - because how do I know but what it was his wife? I say it might have been his wife - and so it might - I was not there, and I do not consider that I have any right to say it was not his wife. In reality I am satisfied it was his wife - but I am sorry, though, because it would have been so much better presence of mind to have embraced some other woman. I was in Third street. I looked around for some woman to embrace, but there was none in sight. I could have expected no better fortune, though, so I said, "O certainly - just my luck."


When the earthquake arrived in Oakland, the commanding officer of the Congregational Sabbath School was reading these words, by way of text: "And the earth shook and trembled!" In an instant the earthquake seized the text and preached a powerful sermon on it. I do not know whether the commanding officer resumed the subject again where the earthquake left off or not, I but if he did I am satisfied that he has got a good deal of "cheek." I do not consider that any modest man would try to improve on a topic that had already been treated by an earthquake.


A young gentleman who lives in Sacramento street, rushed down stairs and appeared in public with no raiment on save a knit undershirt, which concealed his person about as much as its tin foil cap conceals a champagne bottle. He struck an attitude such as a man assumes when he is looking up, expecting danger from above, and bends his arm and holds it aloft to ward off possible missiles - and standing thus he glared fiercely up at the fire-wall of a tall building opposite, from which a few bricks had fallen. Men shouted at him to go in the house, people seized him by the arm and tried to drag him away - even tender-hearted women, (O, Woman! - O ever noble, unselfish, angelic woman! - O, Woman, in our hours of ease uncertain, coy, and hard to please - when anything happens to go wrong with our harness, a ministering angel thou), women, I say, averted their faces, and nudging the paralyzed and impassible statue in the ribs with their elbows beseeched him to take their aprons - to take their shawls - to take their hoop-skirts - anything, anything, so that he would not stand there longer in such a plight and distract people's attention from the earthquake. But he wouldn't budge - he stood there in his naked majesty till the last tremor died away from the earth, and then looked around on the multitude - and stupidly enough, too, until his dull eye fell upon himself. He went back upstairs, then. He went up lively.


But where is the use in dwelling on these incidents? There are enough of them to make a book. Joe Noques, of your city, was playing billiards in the Cosmopolitan Hotel. He went through a window into the court and then jumped over an iron gate eighteen feet high, and took his billiard cue with him. Sam Witgenstein took refuge in a church - probably the first time he was ever in one in his life. Judge Bryan climbed a telegraph pole. Pete Hopkins narrowly escaped injury. He was shaken abruptly from the summit of Telegraph Hill and fell on a three-story brick house ten feet below. I see that the morning papers (always ready to smooth over things), attribute the destruction of the house to the earthquake. That is newspaper magnanimity - but an earthquake has no friends. Extraordinary things happened to everybody except me. No one even spoke to me - at least only one man did, I believe - a man named Robinson- - from Salt Lake, I think - who asked me to take a drink. I refused.

[reprinted in The Works of Mark Twain; Early Tales & Sketches, Vol. 2 1864-1865, (Univ. of California Press, 1981), pp. 291-93.]
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