Mark Twain in the West: An Exhibition
A 'Call' to Literature

“Baker’s Blue-Jay Yarn”

Clemens credited one of Jim Gillis’s tales about Dick Stoker to “Jim Baker” in A Tramp Abroad (1880). Here is the introduction to what later became known as “Baker’s Blue-Jay Yarn” from the manuscript of chapter 2:

Animals talk to each other, of course. There can be no question about that; but I suppose there are very few people who can understand them. I never knew but one man who could. I knew he could, however, because he told me so himself. He was a middle-aged, simple-hearted miner who had lived in a lonely corner of California among the woods & mountains, a good many years, & had studied the ways of his only neighbors, the beasts & the birds, until he believed he could accurately translate any remark which they made. This was Jim Baker. According to Jim Baker, some animals have only a limited education, & use only very simple words, & scarcely ever a comparison or a flowery figure; whereas, certain other animals have a large vocabulary, a fine command of language & a ready & fluent delivery; consequently these latter talk a great deal; they like it; they are conscious of their talent, & they enjoy “showing off.” Baker said, that after long & careful observation, he had come to the conclusion that the blue-jays were the best talkers he had found among birds & beasts. Said he:

“There’s more to a blue-jay than any other creature. He has got more moods, & more different kinds of feelings than other creatures; & mind you, whatever a blue-jay feels, he can put into language. And no mere commonplace language, either, but rattling, out-&-out book-talk—and bristling with metaphor, too—just bristling! And . . .”

University of California, Berkeley Mark Twain Papers and Project Maps Roughing It and Comments on Bret Harte Retracing Clemens's Steps Corresponding for the Sacramento Union Jackass Hill days in Clemens's Autobiography Sam Clemens in San Francisco, 1868 Stage fright and success Maguire's Academy of Music Mark Twain's first lecture 'Baker's Blue-Jay Yarn' 'I have had a 'call' to literature' A 'Call' to Literature California Gold Country San Francisco Correspondent Writing for the Enterprise Mining in Nevada Territory Exhibit Home Introduction and Chronology