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

“I have had a ‘call’ to literature”

Letter from Sam Clemens to his brother and sister-in-law, Orion and Mollie, 19 and 20 October 1865, before “Jumping Frog” was published:

P.S. You had better shove this in the stove—for if we strike a bargain I don’t want any absurd “literary remains” & unpublished letters of Mark Twain published after I am planted.

San F.—Oct. 19, 1865

My dear Bro & Sister:

Orion there was genius—true, unmistakeable genius—in that sermon of yours. It was not the gilded base metal that passes for intellectual gold too generally in this world of ours. It is one of the few sermons that I have read with pleasure—I do not say profit, because I am beyond the reach of argument now. But seven or eight years ago that single sermon would have saved me. It even made me think—yea, & regret for a while, as it was. (Don’t preach from the above text, next time.) Viewed as a literary production, that sermon was first-class.

And now let me preach you a sermon. I never had but two powerful ambitions in my life. One was to be a pilot, & the other a preacher of the gospel. I accomplished the one & failed in the other, because I could not supply myself with the necessary stock in trade—i.e. religion. I have given it up forever. I never had a “call” in that direction, anyhow, & my aspirations were the very ecstasy of presumption. But I have had a “call” to literature, of a low order—i.e. humorous. It is nothing to be proud of, but it is my strongest suit, & if I were to listen to that maxim of stern duty which says that to do right you must multiply the one or the two or the three talents which the Almighty entrusts to your keeping, I would long ago have ceased to meddle with things for which I was by nature unfitted & turned my attention to seriously scribbling to excite the laughter of God’s creatures. . . .

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