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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Darryl Brock <[log in to unmask]>
Sat, 10 Dec 2016 11:53:25 -0800
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
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Re-reading Bret Harte's "How Santa Claus Came to Simpson's Bar" (1872), 
I was interested to find this passage referencing the narrator of MT's 
jumping frog tale (1867):

It was a figure familiar enough to the company, and known in Simpson's 
Bar as the "Old Man." A man of perhaps fifty years; grizzled and scant 
of hair, but still fresh and youthful of complexion. A face full of 
ready, but not very powerful, sympathy, with a chameleon-like aptitude 
for taking on the shade and color of contiguous moods and feelings. He 
had evidently just left some hilarious companions and did not at first 
notice the gravity of the group, but clapped the shoulder of the nearest 
man jocularly, and threw himself into a vacant chair.
"Jest heard the best thing out, boys! Ye know Smiley, over yar -- Jim 
Smiley -- funniest man in the Bar? Well, Jim was jest telling the 
richest yarn about -- "
"Smiley's a ---- fool," interrupted a gloomy voice.
"A particular ---- skunk," added another in sepulchral accents.
A silence followed these positive statements. The Old Man glanced 
quickly around the group. Then his face slowly changed. "That's so," he 
said reflectively, after a pause, "certingly a sort of a skunk and 
suthin' of a fool. In course." He was silent for a moment as in painful 
contemplation of the unsavoriness and folly of the unpopular Smiley.

I wonder if this might have annoyed Twain.  Later in the 70s, his 
relationship with Harte deteriorated.  Could this have been an early 
harbinger?  Harte had spent time in Angel's Camp and presumably met 
Smiley, or at least knew of him, but it was Twain who'd made him a 
popular figure.  The two writers were keenly aware of their respective 
sales; each paid close attention to the other.  Might MT have viewed 
Harte as trying to ride his coat-tails?