Roughing It
by Mark Twain

A story-filled account of Twain's stage-coach trip to Nevada, his years as a prospector and reporter, his trip to Hawaii, and the beginning of his career as a lecturer. Twain's low-class, high time-preferences caused him to miss several opportunities to make a fortune in Nevada. He comes across as a man who is unreliable in business, because he is too easily distracted to be trusted with any responsibility that requires diligence and constant attention.

Whenever he got money he paid his debts, squandered the rest quickly, and went back to living on credit or doing without. He maintained his low-class time-preferences all his life and always struggled to get out of debt, even though he earned a lot of money from his books and lectures. Despite his obvious intelligence, he was a sucker for get-rich-quick schemes.

He adopted the machismo admiration for killers (except for those like the Mormons who are motivated by religion). On the other hand, he took an elevated and sympathetic view toward Chinamen who were hated and abused by the others of his class.

His description of life in the mining towns of Nevada and California agrees with Dimsdale's description of the mining towns in Montana. In fact, Twain copied five whole pages from Dimsdale's book The Vigilantes of Montana, which I reviewed in Formulations, Review of Vigilantes of Montana by Thomas J. Dimsdale and he refers to it favorably several times. He met one of the desperadoes (J. A. Slade) who was later hung in Montana.

Here is some of Twain's colorful language:

On the Mormon Bible: "chloroform in print." (Vol. I, 110)

"Three months of camp life on Lake Tahoe would restore an Egyptian mummy to his pristine vigor, and give him an appetite like an alligator. I do not mean the oldest and driest mummies, of course, but the fresher ones." (Vol. I, 158)

"We found him standing on a table in a saloon, with an old tin lantern in one hand and the school report in the other, haranguing a gang of intoxicated Cornish miners on the iniquity of squandering the public moneys on education 'when hundreds and hundreds of honest hard-working men are literally starving for whiskey.' [Riotous applause.]" (Vol. II, 10)

"They are a kindly-disposed, well-meaning race, and are respected and well treated by the upper classes, all over the Pacific coast. No Californian gentleman or lady ever abuses or oppresses a Chinaman, under any circumstances, an explanation that seems to be much needed in the East. Only the scum of the population do it—they and their children; they, and, naturally and consistently, the policemen and politicians, likewise, for these are the dust-licking pimps and slaves of the scum, there as elsewhere in America." (Vol. II, 112)

Year read: 2000


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