Copyright: This work is in the public domain in the USA only.
My watch -- Political economy -- The jumping frog -- Journalism in Tennessee -- The story of the bad little boy -- The story of the good little boy -- A couple of poems by Twain and Moore -- Niagara -- Answers to correspondents -- To raise poultry -- Experience of the McWilliamses with membranous croup -- My first literary venture -- How the author was sold in Newark -- The office bore -- Johnny Greer -- The facts in the case of the great beef contract -- The case of George Fisher -- Disgraceful persecution of a boy -- The judge's "spirited woman" -- Information wanted -- Some learned fables for good old boys and girls -- My late senatorial secretaryship -- A fashion item -- Riley, Newspaper correspondent -- A fine old man -- Science vs. luck -- The late Benjamin Franklin -- Mr. Bloke's item -- A medieval romance -- Petition concerning copyright -- After-dinner speech -- Lionising murderers -- A new crime -- A curious dream -- A true story -- The Siamese twins -- Speech at the Scottish banquet at London -- A ghost story -- The Capitoline Venus -- Speech on accident insurance -- John Chinaman in New York -- How I once edited an agricultural paper -- The petrified man -- My bloody massacre -- The undertaker's chat -- Concerning chambermaids -- Aurelia's unfortunate young man -- "After" Jenkins -- About barbers -- "Party cries" in Ireland -- The facts concerning the recent resignation -- History repeats itself -- Honored as a curiosity -- First interview with Artemus Ward -- Cannibalism in the cars -- The killing of Julius Caesar "localized" -- The widow's protest -- The scriptural panoramist -- Curing a cold -- A curious pleasure excursion -- Running for governor -- A mysterious visit.
A real storyteller can make a great story out of anything, even the most trivial occurrence. Composed between 1863 and 1875, the sixty-three often outrageous sketches in Sketches, New and Old contain, for instance, a piece about the difficulty of getting a pocket watch repaired properly; complaints about barbers and office bores; and satirical comments on bureaucrats, courts of law, the profession of journalism, the claims of science, and the workings of government. In Mark Twain's hands, all these potentially dry and dull topics bristle with vitality and interest. "What fascinates Twain," Lee Smith writes in her introduction, is how people "react to the things that happen to them." Twain "lets them speak in their own voices by and large, in a chorus ranging from high-flown oratory to the plain speech of working people.... It seems generally true that the more elevated the speech, the likelier that person is to be an idiot; words of wisdom and common sense are invariably voiced by the common man"--or woman. "The most profound and moving sketch in this whole collection" Smith writes, is one "told by a freed slave." The candid, ironic, playful, and petulant sketches in this volume are indispensable to our understanding of a harried genius during thirteen quite amazing years.