Mark Twain and The Jumping Frog

Tracy Wuster

One of the key moments in the career of Mark Twain was the tremendous success of his story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” first published in the Saturday Post on August 12, 1865.  The reputation of this magazine as a key New York periodical, different in tone but of similar importance in its own literary culture as the Atlantic Monthly was in Boston, was certainly a boon to Twain’s East Coast reputation.  But as James Caron has argued in Mark Twain: Unsanctified Newspaper Reporter, the importance of the jumping frog story in establishing Twain’s reputation may be overstated.[1]  Instead of a sudden burst into public consciousness, the piece represents the culmination of more than a year of success on both coasts, where newspapers had published Mark Twain’s writings for the Californian, a magazine aimed at national and international, rather than regional, audiences.[2]

Nevertheless, the story of the Jumping Frog quickly took a central, if possibly oversized, role in the public’s view of Mark Twain.  Writing in the New York Tribune in May 1867, the drama critic Edward “Ned” House wrote:
The chance offering of ‘The Jumping Frog,’ carelessly cast, eighteen months ago, upon the Atlantic waters, returned to him in the most agreeable form which a young aspirant for public fame could desire.  The wind that was sowed with probably very little calculation as to its effect upon its future prospects, now enables him to reap quite a respectable tempest of encouragement and cordiality.
For many years in the early career of Mark Twain, newspapers and magazines linked the fame of the Jumping Frog story to the fame of Mark Twain–sometimes very literally.
I would like to share three major images of Mark Twain in conjunction with his jumping frog.  First, and undoubtedly most famous, is the illustration by Frederick Waddy from the English journal Once a Week from December 1872, shortly after Twain’s first visit to England.
Mark Twain Jumping Frog Calaveras County
**Keep reading for two more images of Twain and the Jumping Frog.**

Rarely Seen!

                                                                                   Can’t be missed!
Along with the illustration, the magazine featured a short biography that clearly shows the importance of the story in establishing Twain’s English reputation.  It read in part:

The name by which the American humourist who wrote “The Jumping Frog” is known by the readers of his works is a nom de plume.  Mr. Samuel L. Clemens has only lately left England, and has promised to come and see us “Britishers” again before long.

California has developed a literature of its own, and its proudest boast is the possession of Mark Twain.  “The Jumping Frog,” pronounced by the Saturday Review “an inimitably funny book,” soon made its author famous, and gained for him readers wherever English is spoken.  “The Jumping Frog” is a story of the California gold mines; it is very humorous, and very well told.  “Eye-openers,” “Screamers,” “A Burlesque Autobiography,” “The Innocents Abroad,” and “The New Pilgrim’s Progress,” are all of them works of the peculiar humor invented by our American cousins, from the pen of the author of “The Jumping Frog.”…

This illustration was part of a series by the artist published the following year as Cartoon Portraits and Biographical Sketches of Men of the Daya book that includes 52 portraits of mostly English figures, including great portraits of Charles Darwin, Shirley Brooks, Matthew Arnold, and many others.
The second portrait comes from the London Hornet from December 13, 1873.  Now, Mark Twain has become a frog:
Mark Twain Jumping Frog Calaveras County clemens
Many thanks to Vic Fischer and the Mark Twain Papers at Berkeley for scanning this image and allowing me to use it for this post.  The image comes from Mark Twain’s scrapbook of his stay in England (#12, page 43).
Twain continued to be closely associated with the figure of the jumping frog, including this image, in which Twain is pictured as a frog in relation to a completely unrelated subject–the premiere of his first play “The Gilded Age” (renamed “Col. Sellers) from the New York Daily Graphic from September 21, 1874.
Mark Twain Jumping Frog Calaveras County Gilded Age Colonel Sellers
Many thanks to Alex Effgen for providing me with this scan.
Are there other images of Mark Twain and the frog that could be added to this discussion.  I would greatly appreciate any contributions.  Here are a few that jump out:
The cover of Twain’s first book, 1867.
Mark Twain Jumping Frog Calaveras County Sketches
From Sketches, New and Old (1875).  See more illustrations here.
frog_Sketches number 1
mark twain jumping frog sketches
From Sketches Number One, 1874
Mark Twain Jumping Frog graphic novel
From a graphic novel adapted and illustrated by Kevin Atkinson
Some images from an exhibit at Cornell University.
See several images at the “Twain Quotes” site.
(c) Tracy Wuster, 2012

[1] Caron, 257-9.  He also argues that the sketch owes as much to the influence of Artemus Ward as it does to the Humor of the Old Southwest, to which early generations of humor scholars traced Twain’s reputation.  See also Paul Rogers, “Artemus Ward and Mark Twain’s ‘Jumping Frog,’” Nineteenth-Century Fiction, 28:3 (December 1973), pp. 273-286.

[2] ibid., 261.

4 responses

  1. Tracy, Tracy! “Here are a few that jump out.” All the way from Calaveras County?

  2. Reblogged this on Humor in America and commented:

    Many of us are recovering from Mark Twain Summer Camp–the intellectual conversations, the great papers, the food, the wine, the food… ABE will be up with a post on that subject this week, but in the meantime, enjoy this piece on Mark Twain and the Jumping Frog.

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