The Venice of the West
 About the Author/Artist
 Alternative History Timeline  
 Double Fiction Issue

Part I: Alta California
 I Meet Mark Twain
 I Meet John Sargent
A Humorist, Not a Politician
 The Venice of the West
 The Fair Marina
 A Candide Character
 A Swan Among Geese

 So Much?
 Gibralter the Egg Mule
 An American Vandal Abroad
 Daisy and Oscar
 A Chance Encounter
 Goya’s Studio
 Holy Relics

Part II: Sakrametska in Rossland
 Boundary Values
 The Unholy Family
 Boom Town
 New Dog, Old Tricks
 Commission of a Lifetime
 Minor Moon of a Minor Planet

  NOVEL EXCERPTS by Patrick Fanning


A Humorist, Not a Politician

William Dean Howells
Atlantic Weekly
Boston, Massachusetts, USA

May 22, 1879

Dear William:

Thank you for your warning, however belatedly received. Your letter arrived just as I was embarking on my voyage to Alta California—soon enough to take heed and have ample fodder for worry; too late to do anything about it. Actually, I never worry. I cannot fret myself over the future because I have so much in my past to regret that it occupies my mind entirely.

Yours was not the only rumor of war I have heard, but I discount them. I am a humorist, not a politician. I doubt strongly that the powerful and greedy of Alta California and Rossland will even notice my sojourn there. And at the first sign of trouble, I plan to cut and run. However, if any political morsels fall my way, I will duly report them to you and you may pass them on to your friends in Washington.

If I can find a suitable dark room somewhere, I will send you photographic specimens of my travels. I have brought along my new plaything, a tiny Submarine Super Camera from Japan that fits in the palm of my hand and uses high grade 2x3-inch dry glass plates, of which I have a ridiculously large supply in a cunningly fitted case that is lined in plush and proofed against light and moisture. I plan to make a portrait of myself in some wonderfully exotic locale, to use as the basis for an engraved frontispiece in my next travel book.

I am doomed to lecture yet again on the Sandwich Islands, Europe, the Holy Lands, etc. etc. I have translated some of my best stories and jokes into Spanish, Esperanto, and even Russian, in the hopes that I can get a visa to Rossland. The Spanish I find most humorous and commodious, with room for even the occasional pun. Esperanto is stiff and awkward, like dancing with your granny. Being a recently and rationally constructed language, it lacks idiomatic expressions, regional accent, or literary history. One can tell a joke in Esperanto, but it is rough sledding. As for Russian, it is suitable for only the most scatological or physical humor.

Although I have reservations about the lecturing part of this trip, I am glad of the opportunity to pen some travel letters for you. I would relish including a visit to you in this trip, however I reckon finances will not permit. The train fare from California to Boston is shamefully dear, more of a tariff than a toll. I would encourage you to come west to meet me, if I did not know how you are shackled to the grind of weekly publication. The trip would take a week out here and a week back, and without two issues of the Atlantic, the poor old U. S. of A. might perish. And anyhow, the Californians are unlikely to issue a visa to a ruffian like yourself. You really should concentrate more on the literary side of things and take less interest in politics—then you could drop your news coverage, put out a monthly literary rag, and become an impoverished man of letters and leisure like the rest of us.

We dock tomorrow in San Francisco Bay, where I will post this.

Your obedient etc.
Mark Twain

  © Patrick Fanning, 2012


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