Business of every kind boomed. Less than two years earlier, J. T. Goodman, a miner who was also a printer and a man of literary taste, had joined with another printer, Dennis McCarthy, and the two had managed to buy a struggling Virginia City paper, the "Territorial Enterprise." But then came the hightide of fortune. A year later the "Enterprise," from a starving sheet in a leaky shanty, had become a large, handsome paper in a new building, and of such brilliant editorial management that it was the most widely considered journal on the Pacific coast.

Goodman was a fine, forceful writer, and he surrounded himself with able men. He was a young man, full of health and vigor, overflowing with the fresh spirit and humor of the West. Comstockers would always laugh at a joke, and Goodman was always willing to give it to them. The "Enterprise" was a newspaper, but it was willing to furnish entertainment even at the cost of news. William Wright, editorially next to Goodman, was a humorist of ability. His articles, signed Dan de Quille, were widely copied. R. M. Daggett (afterward United States Minister to Hawaii) was also an "Enterprise" man, and there were others of their sort.

Samuel Clemens fitted precisely into this group. He brought with him a new turn of thought and expression; he saw things with open eyes, and wrote of them in a fresh, wild way that Comstockers loved. He was allowed full freedom. Goodman suppressed nothing; his men could write as they chose. They were all young together--if they pleased themselves, they were pretty sure to please their readers. Often they wrote of one another--squibs and burlesques, which gratified the Comstock far more than mere news. It was just the school to produce Mark Twain.

The new arrival found acquaintance easy. The whole "Enterprise" force was like one family; proprietors, editor, and printers were social equals. Samuel Clemens immediately became "Sam" to his associates, just as De Quille was "Dan," and Goodman "Joe." Clemens was supposed to report city items, and did, in fact, do such work, which he found easy, for his pilot-memory made notes unnecessary.

He could gather items all day, and at night put down the day's budget well enough, at least, to delight his readers. When he was tired of facts, he would write amusing paragraphs, as often as not something about Dan, or a reporter on a rival paper. Dan and the others would reply, and the Comstock would laugh. Those were good old days.

Sometimes he wrote hoaxes. Once he told with great circumstance and detail of a petrified prehistoric man that had been found embedded in a rock in the desert, and how the coroner from Humboldt had traveled more than a hundred miles to hold an inquest over a man dead for centuries, and had refused to allow miners to blast the discovery from its position.

The sketch was really intended as a joke on the Humboldt coroner, but it was so convincingly written that most of the Coast papers took it seriously and reprinted it as the story of a genuine discovery. In time they awoke, and began to inquire as to who was the smart writer on the "Enterprise."

Mark Twain did a number of such things, some of which are famous on the Coast to this day.

Clemens himself did not escape. Lamps were used in the "Enterprise" office, but he hated the care of a lamp, and worked evenings by the light of a candle. It was considered a great joke in the office to "hide Sam's candle" and hear him fume and rage, walking in a circle meantime--a habit acquired in the pilothouse--and scathingly denouncing the culprits. Eventually the office-boy, supposedly innocent, would bring another candle, and quiet would follow. Once the office force, including De Quille, McCarthy, and a printer named Stephen Gillis, of whom Clemens was very fond, bought a large imitation meerschaum pipe, had a German-silver plate set on it, properly engraved, and presented it to Samuel Clemens as genuine, in testimony of their great esteem. His reply to the presentation speech was so fine and full of feeling that the jokers felt ashamed of their trick.

The Boys Life of Mark Twain Page 43

Mark Twain

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