"San Francisco, a truly fascinating city to live in, is stately and handsome at a fair distance, but close at hand one notes that the architecture is mostly old-fashioned, many streets are made up of decaying, smoke-grimed, wooden houses, and the barren sand-hills toward the outskirts obtrude themselves too prominently. Even the kindly climate is sometimes pleasanter when read about than personally experienced, for a lovely, cloudless sky wears out its welcome by and by, and then when the longed for rain does come it stays. Even the playful earthquake is better contemplated at a dis—
However there are varying opinions about that.
The climate of San Francisco is mild and singularly equable. The thermometer stands at about seventy degrees the year round. It hardly changes at all. You sleep under one or two light blankets Summer and Winter, and never use a mosquito bar. Nobody ever wears Summer clothing. You wear black broadcloth—if you have it—in August and January, just the same. It is no colder, and no warmer, in the one month than the other. You do not use overcoats and you do not use fans. It is as pleasant a climate as could well be contrived, take it all around, and is doubtless the most unvarying in the whole world. The wind blows there a good deal in the summer months, but then you can go over to Oakland, if you choose—three or four miles away—it does not blow there. It has only snowed twice in San Francisco in nineteen years, and then it only remained on the ground long enough to astonish the children, and set them to wondering what the feathery stuff was."
During eight months of the year, straight along, the skies are bright and cloudless, and never a drop of rain falls. But when the other four months come along, you will need to go and steal an umbrella. Because you will require it. Not just one day, but one hundred and twenty days in hardly varying succession. When you want to go visiting, or attend church, or the theatre, you never look up at the clouds to see whether it is likely to rain or not—you look at the almanac. If it is Winter, it will rain—and if it is Summer, it won’t rain, and you cannot help it. You never need a lightning-rod, because it never thunders and it never lightens. And after you have listened for six or eight weeks, every night, to the dismal monotony of those quiet rains, you will wish in your heart the thunder would leap and crash and roar along those drowsy skies once, and make everything alive—you will wish the prisoned lightnings would cleave the dull firmament asunder and light it with a blinding glare for one little instant. You would give anything to hear the old familiar thunder again and see the lightning strike somebody. And along in the Summer, when you have suffered about four months of lustrous, pitiless sunshine, you are ready to go down on your knees and plead for rain—hail—snow—thunder and lightning—anything to break the monotony—you will take an earthquake, if you cannot do any better. And the chances are that you’ll get it, too.
San Francisco is built on sand hills, but they are prolific sand hills. They yield a generous vegetation. All the rare flowers which people in “the States” rear with such patient care in parlor flower-pots and green- houses, flourish luxuriantly in the open air there all the year round. Calla lilies, all sorts of geraniums, passion flowers, moss roses—I do not know the names of a tenth part of them. I only know that while New Yorkers are burdened with banks and drifts of snow, Californians are burdened with banks and drifts of flowers, if they only keep their hands off and let them grow. And I have heard that they have also that rarest and most curious of all the flowers, the beautiful Espiritu Santo, as the Spaniards call it—or flower of the Holy Spirit—though I thought it grew only in Central America—down on the Isthmus. In its cup is the daintiest little facsimile of a dove, as pure as snow. The Spaniards have a superstitious reverence for it. The blossom has been conveyed to the States, submerged in ether; and the bulb has been taken thither also, but every attempt to make it bloom after it arrived, has failed.
379.37 [Next day I got away, on the coach, with the usual eclat] Clemens left Virginia City on 29 May 1864 on the California stage, accompanied by Steve Gillis and—unexpectedly—by Goodman, who had planned to accompany the travelers “a little way” and instead “kept clear on to San Francisco” (Goodman to A. B. Paine, 7 Apr 1911, Chester L. Davis 1956c, 4). Clemens’s cronies may have attended his departure with the “usual eclat,” but he was not universally regretted. The Gold Hill Evening News expressed no surprise at his disappearance in view of the “indignation aroused by his enormities” and remarked: “Mark Twain’s beard is full of dirt, and his face is black before the people of Washoe” (“An Exile,” Gold Hill Evening News, 30 May 64, 2). Roughing It makes no mention of a major reason for Clemens and Gillis’s departure: the desire to avoid arrest for violating the law against dueling (see the note at 378.6–8).
From The Life of Mark Twain: The Early Years, 1835-1871, page 259-60
SAM CLEMENS INSISTED in later years that he left Virginia City only because he was “tired of staying in one place so long” and that “when the silver collapse came” and the local economy soured he simply “went to San Francisco.” True enough, mineral production on the Comstock began to decline in the spring of 1864 and the mining industry would not recover until the Big Bonanza strike of the mid-1870s. According to a prominent Virginia City attorney in May 1864, the same month Sam fled Nevada, “We are in the midst of unprecedented and unexpected hard times.” In early June 1864, less than two weeks after Sam resigned from the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, the Nevada City, California, Transcript reported that “thousands of men” in Virginia City were out of work and ‘every branch of business” was on ‘the down grade.” The Transcript added two weeks later that the “rush this way from Virginia City is still on the increase, and everyone that we have had any talk with says that employment cannot be had in the Territory. The average value of mining stocks plummeted by more than half over a few months. By the end of July, as Edgar Marquess Branch has documented, a foot of the Gould & Curry Mine worth $6,000 at its peak in 1863 “sold for $900, and Real del Monte stock worth $510 late in 1863” went begging at $9.” The depression in the diggings grew more severe during the course of the year. The companies reduced wages by fifty cents a day to $3.50, a measure that sparked the formation of miners’ unions in both Virginia City and Gold Hill. According to the Sacramento Bee, four thousand men in Virginia, nearly 20 percent of the population, were unemployed, and California newspapers gloated over the exodus from Nevada. Whereas the Comstock had been a magnet for Californians in 1862-63, the flow of immigrants was reversed in 1864, “The returning tide of Washoeites continues to come in upon us with increased numbers,” the Transcript reported in mid-August. Men who thought they were wealthy a few weeks earlier “have been ruined by the fall in stocks” and “hundreds of workmen thrown out of employment have been compelled to expend their last dime. This reaction which is now ruining, for the present, the business of Virginia City is the inevitable result of the wild speculations of people in mining stocks,” The market value of the Comstock companies fell from $40 million in 1863 to $12 million in the summer of 1865 to $4 million in December 1865,’
On Sunday, August 14, Sam and Steve Gillis joined six other newspapermen and Leiland Lewis on a day trip to the Warm Springs resort near Santa Clara. They left at 8:30 a.m. via the new San Francisco and San Jose Railroad and arrived some two hours later in San Jose, where they spent time at the bar of the Continental Hotel. They then took a buggy twelve miles to the resort, where they spent the afternoon hiking, swimming, dining, and drinking, They returned to San Jose by 6:00 p.m. and to San Francisco by dusk.
January 11, 2011
Many of his articles written during his four months at this newspaper appear in the book “Clemens of the ‘Call’: Mark Twain in San Francisco,” edited by Edgar Branch who estimates that Twain wrote more than 5,000 items (including brief fillers). Among his most memorial articles is one headlined: “Inexplicable New from San Jose.” It was inspired by a trip Clemens and seven other San Francisco reporters took on the recently opened railroad line (now used by Caltrain) on Sunday, Aug. 14, 1864 to the farm village of San Jose. They spent an hour roaming the town – imbibing a drink or two at the Continental Hotel – before heading by a convoy of buggies the 12 miles to the Warm Springs resort, located in what’s now the city of Fremont. There, they enjoyed the day hiking, swimming in the hot springs, dining and drinking. Clemens used the trip as the basis for a humorous sketch published in the Call on Aug. 23, 1864 and written in a drunkard’s style. He refers to San Jose with a drunkard’s slur as “Sarrozay,” and describes it as “a lovely place.”
From The Life of Mark Twain: The Early Years, 1835-1871, page 265-6
During his tenure on the Call, Sam was, according to Branch, “more closely in touch with urban crime and misery... than at any other time in his life.’ The intrepid reporter covered cases of rape, abduction, seduction, sexual and child abuse, indecent exposure, grand larceny, shoplifting, voyeurism, bigamy, perjury, animal cruelty, treason, murder, suicide, labor riots, financial malfeasance, human trafficking, opium smuggling, and domestic assault or ‘conjugal discipline.” He tracked the “obscene-picture epidemic,” as he called it, that swept the city all summer. He was particularly outraged by crimes committed against single women by hack drivers. He detailed one of these cases under the title “Beasts in the Semblance of Men’:
He became acquainted with Joshua Norton, aka Emperor Norton I, a Forty-Niner who during the 1850s lost his fortune and his mind. The most colorful character in town, Norton proclaimed himself emperor of the United States and protector of Mexico. As eccentric as a bent wheel, he was nevertheless humored and even celebrated by San Franciscans. Sam met him as early as July 1864, and in 1872 he jotted in his journal a plan to “write up” the crackpot. Shortly after Norton's death in 1880 he lamented that no one had ever written him up who was able to see any but his grotesque side; but I think that with all his dirt & unsavoriness there was a pathetic side to him. Anybody who said so in print would be laughed at in San Francisco, doubtless, but no matter, I have seen the Emperor when his dignity was wounded. . . . I have seen him in all his various moods & tenses, & there was always more room for pity than laughter.
Sam eventually modeled the figure of Father Peter in “The Chronicle of Young Satan” version of The Mysterious Stranger, written intermittently between 1897 and 1900, on Norton. The priest, though driven insane, will be “happy the rest of his days,” Satan explains, “for he will always think he is the Emperor, and his pride in it and his joy in it will endure to the end.”
From Pages 277-8:
Sam and Steve Gillis seem to have been rowdy roommates during their months together in San Francisco. They changed hotels twice and rooming houses five times, sometimes at the behest of the landladies. One woman from whom they rented apparently thought they were “desperate characters from Washoe—gamblers & murderers of the very worst description” because they carried bottles of beer to their room late at night and threw ‘their empty bottles out of the window.” They also “kept a nasty foreign sword’—Dan remembered it was Japanese—“& any number of revolvers & bowie knives” at hand. They “always had women’ visiting them, “sometimes in broad daylight—bless you, they didn't care.” As Sam asked Dan De Quille rhetorically, “what in the hell is the use of .. . building up a good name, if it is to be blown away at a breath” by someone “who is ignorant of the pleasant little customs that adorn & beautify a state of high civilization?” They lived for a time in a house on a bluff on California Street and later in the private home of a well-to-do family on Minna Street, in a neighborhood just south of the Embarcadero between First and Second “full of gardens and shrubbery.” When Sam lost his job with the Call, they moved a few doors away to a rooming house owned by Steve's father Angus, where Sam could charge his room and board. He was so desperate for money that he contributed three squibs to the Napa Valley Reporter in November and December 1865. Meanwhile, Gillis was involved in a brawl than landed him in trouble with the police. As combative as a bantam rooster and weighing less than a hundred pounds, he intervened in a bar fight on the side of a customer and smashed the bartender over the head with an empty beer pitcher. Unfortunately, the bartender was a friend of the notoriously corrupt San Francisco police chief Martin J. Burke. Sam somehow posted the hundred dollars required to cover Gillis’s five-hundred-dollar straw bond, in effect cosigning a loan for him. His good deed earned its own reward: Gillis failed to appear at his trial a few weeks later; instead, he returned to Virginia City and his old job in the print shop of the Enterprise, and Sam was on the hook for the balance of the bond.”
In early December 1865, to save money and preempt Gillis's prosecution on assault charges, the roommates abandoned the city to spend the winter in a pair of decayed mining camps in the Sierra foothills. “I took $300 with me,” Sam later recalled, probably from the sale of his last mining stock. ‘The Hale & Norcross Mine had been listed for sale at $1,000 a share in early Novernber but dropped to $310 on December 1, and Sam apparently liquidated his remaining interest in the mine during the bear market to finance his trip.