Home | Quotations | Newspaper Articles | Special Features | Links | Search

The New York Times, November 21, 1882


From the Philadelphia Press.

Somebody was asking a Hartford man how it happened that Mark Twain wrote and published so little nowadays. "He writes as much as ever," was the reply, "but his barometer is out of order, and he does not know what to publish; so he publishes nothing."

"What in the world has his barometer to do with his literary activity?"

"His barometer is a man-servant named Jacob, who is remarkable for his deficient sense of humor. Mark never can judge of the merit of his own performances. Years ago he fell into the habit of testing everything that he wrote by observing its effect upon Jacob. If Jacob listened to the reading of the article, jest, or story with unmoved countenance, or merely smiled in a perfunctory way, Mark was satisfied and sent the manuscript to the printer. But if Jacob laughed outright, or gave any other indication of genuine merriment, the humorist concluded that the stuff was hopeless and withheld it from publication. He regarded Jacob as infallible, and came to lean upon his judgment.

"About three years ago, it appears, Jacob learned for the first time from some outsider that his mater was a professional humorist. He felt greatly honored that he should have been chosen habitually to enjoy the first freshness of every new production of genius. He did not exactly understand why he should have been thus chosen, but felt in a vague way that a great humorist must need sympathy and appreciation, and must naturally look for it to the fellow being nearest at hand. He also felt that he had perhaps failed to be at all times sufficiently appreciative. So Jacob kept his discovery to himself as far as his master was concerned, and resolved to be as appreciative in the future as anybody could desire.

"One day Mark called Jacob in and read him a sketch entitled 'The Cow and the Lightning-rod Man.' In composing it Mark had flattered himself that he had struck to a pretty fine steak. To his amazement Jacob put back his head and roared. With a half suppressed ejaculation Mark dashed the manuscript into the waste basket. then Mark waited six weeks or two months to collect his forces (for he is never precipitate in anything he does,) and achieved a romance called 'How I Bounced the Baby.' He summoned Jacob and watched his face with obvious anxiety as he read the touching narrative. Jacob's mirth was painful to observe. Mark tore up the story and then tore his hair.

"Two or three experiments of this sort, with unvarying results, persuaded Mark Twain that the malaria, which he has been dreading ever since it began to creep up the Connecticut Valley, had reached him as last and destroyed is powers of usefulness. He fell into a settled melancholy. His friend, the Rev. Mr. Twichell, tried in vain to cheer him up. 'Perhaps,' suggested Twichell, 'your man has really cultivated a sense of humor, so that you must no longer judge by opposites.' Mark shook his head, and borrowed a volume of Jonathan Edwards's sermons from his friend's library. He copied out a long passage from the discourse on eternal punishment, and palmed it off on Jacob as his own latest effort. For the first time in history, the gloomy periods provoked peals of laughter. Jacob held his sides, and shook all over. Then he suddenly stopped, his countenance became blank, turned pale, and he incontinently fled. He had seen murder in his master's eye.

"That," said the Hartford man, in conclusion, "is why Mark Twain does not write. He hung his reputation as a humorist upon his barometer, and his barometer no longer works."

Return to The New York Times index

Quotations | Newspaper Articles | Special Features | Links | Search