The Celebrated Jumping Frog
  of Calaveras County
by Mark Twain

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Saturday Press, 18 November 1865
as "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog"

collected in —
The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,
  and Other Sketches  (1867)
Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, & Essays,

  1852-1890 March 2010

A storied jump into fame

And the feller studied a minute, and then says, kinder sad, like, "Well — I'm only a stranger here, and I ain't got no frog — but if I had a frog I'd bet you."
Mark Twain's humorous short story, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" was written on request of Artemus Ward. It was widely reprinted after its first appearance in 1865, catapulted Twain into fame beyond any likely expectations of Twain himself, his frog-trainer Jim Smiley, or even the champion frog Dan'l Webster. It probably is the most famous American short story ever written.

Twain frames the "Jumping Frog" story to let us easily out to the frontier state of mind in the little mining camp of Boomerang, and thence back in time as well, the incident to be related dating from 1849 when the Gold Rush lit up expectations of all kinds:

Mr. A. Ward,

    Dear Sir: — Well, I called on good-natured, garrulous old Simon Wheeler, and I inquired after your friend Leonidas W. Smiley, as you requested me to do, and I hereunto append the result. If you can get any information out of it you are cordially welcome to it. I have a lurking suspicion that your Leonidas W. Smiley is a myth — that you never knew such a personage, and that you only conjectured that if I asked old Wheeler about him it would remind him of his infamous Jim Smiley, and he would go to work and bore me nearly to death with some infernal reminiscence of him as long and tedious as it should be useless to me. If that was your design, Mr. Ward, it will gratify you to know that it succeeded.

Thus we are set up for the dry frontier humor. No adventure here, just a classically simple and funny incident. Twain feigns disappointment at wasting his time — but we are the gainers.

I urge fans of the story to also read Twain's 1894 memoir, "Private History of the 'Jumping Frog' Story" — available in the second volume: Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, & Essays, 1891-1910. The "Private History" also includes the translation of the story into French and back again, more or less: don't miss it. The Library of America footnotes in both volumes include interesting tidbits, for both the story and the memoir.

Thanks to my father, a couple of passages from "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" were in common usage in our household in my childhood and after, forming part of my earliest introduction to Mark Twain. A great and memorable story.


© 2010 Robert Wilfred Franson

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