He never would be, now. He had got his first taste of print, and he liked it. He promptly wrote two anecdotes which he thought humorous and sent them to the Philadelphia Saturday Evening Post. They were accepted--without payment, of course, in those days; and when the papers containing them appeared he felt suddenly lifted to a lofty plane of literature. This was in 1851.
"Seeing them in print was a joy which rather exceeded anything in that line I have ever experienced since," he said, nearly sixty years later.
Yet he did not feel inspired to write anything further for the Post. Twice during the next two years he contributed to the Journal; once something about Jim Wolfe, though it was not the story of the cats, and another burlesque on a rival editor whom he pictured as hunting snipe with a cannon, the explosion of which was said to have blown the snipe out of the country. No contributions of this time have been preserved. High prices have been offered for copies of the Hannibal journal containing them, but without success. The Post sketches were unsigned and have not been identified. It is likely they were trivial enough. His earliest work showed no special individuality or merit, being mainly crude and imitative, as the work of a boy--even a precocious boy--is likely to be. He was not especially precocious--not in literature. His literary career would halt and hesitate and trifle along for many years yet, gathering impetus and equipment for the fuller, statelier swing which would bring a greater joy to the world at large, even if not to himself, than that first, far-off triumph.--[In Mark Twain's sketch "My First Literary Venture" he has set down with characteristic embroideries some account of this early authorship.]
Those were hard financial days. Orion could pay nothing on his mortgage --barely the interest. He had promised Sam three dollars and a half a week, but he could do no more than supply him with board and clothes-- "poor, shabby clothes," he says in his record.
"My mother and sister did the housekeeping. My mother was cook. She used the provisions I supplied her. We therefore had a regular diet of bacon, butter, bread, and coffee."
Mrs. Clemens again took a few boarders; Pamela, who had given up teaching for a time, organized another music class. Orion became despondent. One night a cow got into the office, upset a typecase, and ate up two composition rollers. Orion felt that fate was dealing with a heavy hand. Another disaster quickly followed. Fire broke out in the office, and the loss was considerable. An insurance company paid one hundred and fifty dollars. With it Orion replaced such articles as were absolutely needed for work, and removed his plant into the front room of the Clemens dwelling. He raised the one-story part of the building to give them an added room up-stairs; and there for another two years, by hard work and pinching economies, the dying paper managed to drag along. It was the fire that furnished Sam Clemens with his Jim Wolfe sketch. In it he stated that Jim in his excitement had carried the office broom half a mile and had then come back after the wash-pan.
In the meantime Pamela Clemens married. Her husband was a well-to-do merchant, William A. Moffett, formerly of Hannibal, but then of St. Louis, where he had provided her with the comforts of a substantial home.
Orion tried the experiment of a serial story. He wrote to a number of well-known authors in the East, but was unable to find one who would supply a serial for the price he was willing to pay. Finally he obtained a translation of a French novel for the sum offered, which was five dollars. It did not save the sinking ship, however. He made the experiment of a tri-weekly, without success. He noticed that even his mother no longer read his editorials, but turned to the general news. This was a final blow.
"I sat down in the dark," he says, "the moon glinting in at the open door. I sat with one leg over the chair and let my mind float."
He had received an offer of five hundred dollars for his office--the amount of the mortgage--and in his moonlight reverie he decided to dispose of it on those terms.