Was Jim Smiley a real person? The cat who told the "Jumping Frog" story was named Ben Coon. I think he was "Simon Wheeler" but don't recall Jim Smiley being the name of an actual historical personage. - B. Clay Shannon
From: Peter Salwen <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Sent: Saturday, December 10, 2016 12:12 PM
Subject: Re: Jim Smiley
Nice find. Bears some meditation. But probably -- at that relatively early
stage -- just some more-or-less gentle ribbing?
*Peter Salwen /* salwen.com
*114 W 86, NYC 10024 | 917-620-5371*
On Sat, Dec 10, 2016 at 2:53 PM, Darryl Brock <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> 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?