Celebrating Twain's Jumping Frog
Take a break from more serious matters to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Mark Twain’s tall tale about “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”
Mark Twain was the pen name of Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910). Twain’s cautionary story about gambling, cheating, and the unreliability of frogs first appeared in The Saturday Press of New York on November 18, 1865 with the title “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog.” The story would be reprinted in several newspapers and other publications before being published with 26 other sketches in Twain’s first book in 1867.
First edition of this first book of Twain’s, which contains 27 sketches on various matters including “Curing a Cold,” “The Launch of the Steamer Capital,” and “Honored as a Curiosity in Honolulu.” Our copy evidences a few adventures on its way to our collections. Stamps on its dedication page indicate it once lived at the Oklahoma Baptist University Library, and also at the University of Oklahoma’s Bizzell Library. A jagged hole in the title page, just under the author’s byline, makes us suspect that at some point a miscreant clipped a Twain autograph out of the book. Through some unknown avenue the book found its way into book collector Irving Levy’s collection of 19th-century American writers, and thence to Georgetown, when the Library purchased the 900-volume Levy collection in the 1980s.
Mark Twain. The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, And other Sketches. New York: C. H. Webb; American News Co., agents, 1867. Irving Levy Collection, PS1322.C4 1867.
This little sixpence London edition was a bargain. Two sixpence added up to a shilling, and 20 shillings made a pound. As a point of reference, advertisements in this very book offer “French coffee” for tenpence per pound, “Onfa Congo” tea for 1 shilling sixpence per pound, and other books by the publisher at two shillings sixpence or more. Note the decorative tadpole border design.
Mark Twain. The Jumping Frog & Other Stories. London: Ward, Lock, and Co., [18--]. Irving Levy Collection, PS1322.C4 1800z
Mark Twain. The Notorious Jumping Frog & Other Stories. Selected and Introduced by Edward Wagenknecht, Illustrated by Joseph Low. New York: The Limited Editions Club, 1970. Special Collections 00A316.
One of 15 copies, with an extra suite of the wood engravings and portrait etching of Twain, a suite of prints, and a copy of the regular edition of the book, each plate signed and numbered by the artist and signed on the colophon of the leather-bound edition by the artist. The book and two prints are displayed.
Mark Twain. The Jumping Frog. Wood engravings by Alan James Robinson. [Easthampton, MA]: Cheloniidae Press, 1985. Special Collections PS1322.C4 1985.
The Calaveras County Fair & Jumping Frog Jubilee in Angels Camp, California holds an annual frog-jumping contest in honor of Twain’s tale. Rules are strict and a Frog Welfare Policy is enforced. The Frog Jump has been held since 1928.
Rana draytonii, the California red-legged frog, is likely the species that would have played the part of the frog named Dan’l Webster in Twain’s story. That species was named in honor of Joseph Drayton, one of the artists who accompanied the United States Exploring Expedition from 1838-1842. The annals of that expedition, in six volumes, are full of Drayton's illustrations.
However, the species of frog that competes today in the annual Calaveras County Jumping Frog contest is the American bullfrog, Rana catesbeiana, named in honor of naturalist Mark Catesby. In 1833 George Washington Parke Custis donated to Georgetown a first edition of Catesby’s Natural History, purchased by his ancestor John Custis of Williamsburg and later among the books that George and Martha Washington enjoyed at Mount Vernon.
Left: A frog [in facsimile] from Catesby’s The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands…, London, Printed at the expense of the author, and sold by W. Innys and R. Manby [et al.], 1731-43. Special Collections 77VB1.
Right: Volume 5 of the Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition. During the Years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842. Open to Joseph Drayton’s sketch of a “Pine Forest, Oregon.” Special Collections 75A433.
Sadly, Tom Sawyer apparently bought into the myth that handling frogs causes warts. Though he claimed he played with frogs a lot, the only mention of frogs we could find in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was a discussion between Tom and Huck about various inventive cures for warts. Here, open to the relevant pages, is a facsimile edition of one of the Library’s great treasures, the original handwritten manuscript of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
Early in the new century, Twain found himself incensed by an unauthorized French translation of his story. “He has not translated it at all,” Twain complains, “he has simply mixed it all up; it is no more like the Jumping Frog when he gets through with it than I am like a meridian of longitude.” Twain took it upon himself to prove his point by retranslating the French back into English exactly as the French had been written, publishing the three versions side by side. Open to the illustration “My re-translation from the French.”
Mark Twain. The Jumping Frog, In English, Then in French, Then Clawed Back into a Civilized Language Once More by Patient, Unremunerated Toil. Illustrated by F. Strothman. New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1903. Irving Levy Collection, PS1322.C4 1903
One of the several reprints of “Jim Smiley and his Jumping Frog” appeared on the front page of The Lancaster Gazette on December 7, 1865. You can see and read this issue online, thanks to the Chronicling America project of the National Digital Newspaper Program, at chroniclingamerica.loc.gov. The author is here described as “Mark Twain, who will shortly become a regular contributor to our columns. Mark Twain is the assumed name of a writer in California who has long been a favorite contributor to the San Francisco press.…”
Exhibit: Stephanie Hughes, Communications & Projects Coord., Booth Family Center for Special Collections
Photography: David Hagen, Graphic Artist/Photographer, Lauinger Library
Contributors: John Buchtel, Brynlee Norton (C'2019), Karen O'Connell