The Cruel Earthquake

Mark Twain

Virginia City Territorial Enterprise/October 10, 1865

Singular Effects of the Shock on the Rev. Mr. Stebbins

Now the Rev. Mr. Stebbins acted like a sensible man – a man with his presence of mind about him – he did precisely what I thought of doing myself at the time of the earthquake, but had no opportunity – he came down out of his pulpit and embraced a woman. Some say it was his wife. Well, and so it might have been his wife – I’m not saying it wasn’t, am I? I am not going to intimate anything of that kind – because how do I know but what it was his wife? I say it might have been his wife – and so it might – I was not there, and I do not consider that I have any right to say it was not his wife. In reality I am satisfied it was his wife – but I am sorry, though, because it would have been so much better presence of mind to have embraced some other woman. I was in Third street. I looked around for some woman to embrace, but there was none in sight. I could have expected no better fortune, though, so I said, “O certainly – just my luck.”

A Singular Illustration

When the earthquake arrived in Oakland, the commanding officer of the Congregational Sabbath School was reading these words, by way of text: “And the earth shook and trembled!” In an instant the earthquake seized the text and preached a powerful sermon on it. I do not know whether the commanding officer resumed the subject again where the earthquake left off or not, I but if he did I am satisfied that he has got a good deal of “cheek.” I do not consider that any modest man would try to improve on a topic that had already been treated by an earthquake.

A Model Artist Strikes an Attitude

A young gentleman who lives in Sacramento street, rushed down stairs and appeared in public with no raiment on save a knit undershirt, which concealed his person about as much as its tin foil cap conceals a champagne bottle. He struck an attitude such as a man assumes when he is looking up, expecting danger from above, and bends his arm and holds it aloft to ward off possible missiles – and standing thus he glared fiercely up at the fire-wall of a tall building opposite, from which a few bricks had fallen. Men shouted at him to go in the house, people seized him by the arm and tried to drag him away – even tender-hearted women, (O, Woman! – O ever noble, unselfish, angelic woman! – O, Woman, in our hours of ease uncertain, coy, and hard to please – when anything happens to go wrong with our harness, a ministering angel thou), women, I say, averted their faces, and nudging the paralyzed and impassible statue in the ribs with their elbows beseeched him to take their aprons – to take their shawls – to take their hoop-skirts – anything, anything, so that he would not stand there longer in such a plight and distract people’s attention from the earthquake. But he wouldn’t budge – he stood there in his naked majesty till the last tremor died away from the earth, and then looked around on the multitude – and stupidly enough, too, until his dull eye fell upon himself. He went back upstairs, then. He went up lively.

What Happened to a Few Virginians – Charley Bryan Climbs a Telegraph Pole

But where is the use in dwelling on these incidents? There are enough of them to make a book. Joe Noques, of your city, was playing billiards in the Cosmopolitan Hotel. He went through a window into the court and then jumped over an iron gate eighteen feet high, and took his billiard cue with him. Sam Witgenstein took refuge in a church – probably the first time he was ever in one in his life. Judge Bryan climbed a telegraph pole. Pete Hopkins narrowly escaped injury. He was shaken abruptly from the summit of Telegraph Hill and fell on a three-story brick house ten feet below. I see that the morning papers (always ready to smooth over things), attribute the destruction of the house to the earthquake. That is newspaper magnanimity – but an earthquake has no friends. Extraordinary things happened to everybody except me. No one even spoke to me – at least only one man did, I believe – a man named Robinson- – from Salt Lake, I think – who asked me to take a drink. I refused.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s