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Add to My Citations To James L. Laird
21 May 1864 • Virginia City, Nev. Terr.
(Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, 24 May 64, UCCL 02774)
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Enterprise Office, Virginia City,
em spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceMay 21, 1864—9 o’clock, p.m.


James L. Laird, Esq.—Sir:

Your reply to my last note—in which I peremptorily demanded satisfaction of you, without alternative—is just received, and to my utter astonishment you still endeavor to shield your craven carcass behind the person of an individual who in spite of your introduction is entirely unknown to me, and upon whose shoulders you cannot throw the whole responsibility. You acknowledge and reaffirm in this note that “For all editorials appearing in the Union, the proprietors are personally responsible.”1 Now, sir, had there appeared no editorial on the subject endorsing and reiterating the slanderous and disgraceful insults heaped upon me in the “communication,” I would have simply called upon you and demanded the name of its author, and upon your answer would have depended my farther action. But the “editorial” alluded to was equally vile and slanderous as the “communication,” and being an “Editorial” would naturally have more weight in the minds of readers. It was the following undignified and abominably insulting slander appearing in your “Editorial” headed “The ‘How is it’ [issue],” that occasioned my sending you first an alternative and then a peremptory challenge:

“Never before in a long period of newspaper intercourse—never before in any contact with a cotemporary, however unprincipled he might have been, have we found an opponent in statement or in discussion, who had no gentlemanly sense of professional propriety, who conveyed in every word, and in every purpose of all his words, such a groveling disregard for truth, decency and courtesy as to seem to court the distinction, only, of being understood as a vulgar [liar. Meeting ]one who prefers falsehood; whose instincts are all toward falsehood; whose thought is falsification; whose aim is villification through insincere professions of honesty; one whose only merit is thus described, and who evidently desires to be thus known, the obstacles presented are entirely insurmountable, and whoever would touch them fully, should expect to be abominably defiled.”—Union, May 21

You assume in your last note, that I “have challenged Mr. Wilmington,” and that he has informed me “over his own signature,” that he is quite ready to afford me “satisfaction.” Both assumptions are utterly false. I have twice challenged you, and you have twice attempted to shirk the responsibility. Mr. W’s note could not possibly be an answer to my demand for satisfaction from you; and besides, his note simply avowed authorship of a certain “communication” that appeared simultaneously with your libelous “editorial,” and stated that its author had “nothing to [retract.” ]For your gratification, however, I will remark that Mr. Wilmington’s case will be attended to in due time by a distant acquaintance of his who is not willing to see him suffer in obscurity.2 In the meantime, if you do not wish yourself posted as a coward, you will at once accept my peremptory challenge, which I now reiterate.


Explanatory Notes | Textual Commentary

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1 Laird had sent the following reply to Clemens’s second letter:
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2 This “distant acquaintance” was apparently Steve Gillis, who issued a futile challenge to Wilmington:

Office Territorial Enterprise,
em spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceem spaceVirginia, May 21, 1864.


J. W. WilmingtonSir: You are, perhaps, far from those who are wont to advise and care for you, else you would see the policy of minding your own business and letting that of other people alone. Under these circumstances, therefore, I take the liberty of suggesting that you are getting out of your sphere. A contemptible ass and coward like yourself should only meddle in the affairs of gentlemen when called upon to do so. I approve and endorse the course of my principal in this matter, and if your sensitive disposition is aroused by any proceeding of his, I have only to say that I can be found at the Enterprise office, and always at your service.


[To the above, Mr. Wilmington gave a verbal reply to Mr. Millard—the gentleman through whom the note was conveyed to him—stating that he had no quarrel with Mr. Gillis; that he had written his communication only in defense of the craft, and did not desire a quarrel with a member of that craft; he showed Mr. G.’s note to Mr. Millard, who read it, but made no comments upon it.] (Stephen E. Gillis, 3: 146)

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3 Laird answered this letter as follows:
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Clemens published his own letters as well as Laird’s, Wilmington’s, and Gillis’s, numbering them “I” through “VII,” under the title “Personal Correspondence” in the Territorial Enterprise for 24 May. He appended this final commentary:

I denounce Mr. Laird as an unmitigated liar, because he says I published an editorial in which I attacked the printers employed on the Union, whereas there is nothing in that editorial which can be so construed. Moreover, he is a liar on general principles, and from natural instinct. I denounce him as an abject coward, because it has been stated in his paper that its proprietors are responsible for all articles appearing in its columns, yet he backs down from that position; because he acknowledges the “code,” but will not live up to it; because he says himself that he is responsible for all “editorials,” and then backs down from that also; and because he insults me in his note marked “IV” [Laird’s letter of 21 May], and yet refuses to fight me. Finally, he is a fool, because he cannot understand that a publisher is bound to stand responsible for any and all articles printed by him, whether he wants to do it or not.


(SLC 1864, 3:146)

In 1872 Clemens described the Enterprise office while he awaited the first response from Laird:

All our boys—the editors—were in our office, “helping” me in the dismal business, and telling about duels, and discussing the code with a lot of aged ruffians who had had experience in such things, and altogether there was a loving interest taken in the matter, which made me unspeakably uncomfortable. . . . I sent him another challenge, and another and another; and the more he did not want to fight, the bloodthirstier I became. But at last the man’s tone changed. He appeared to be waking up. It was becoming apparent that he was going to fight me, after all. I ought to have known how it would be—he was a man who never could be depended upon. Our boys were exultant. I was not, though I tried to be.

Clemens alleged that a duel was averted only when, during early morning pistol practice, Steve Gillis shot the head off a sparrow and managed to convince Laird’s seconds that Clemens had done it (SLC 1872, 90–91).

glyphglyphCopy-text:glyph“Personal Correspondence,” letter V, Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, 24 May 64, clipping in Scrapbook 3:146, Moffett Collection, Mark Twain Papers, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley (CU-MARK).

glyphglyphPrevious publication:glyph L1, 293–296; Benson, 184–85, reprinted from the Sacramento Union, 26 May 64; MTEnt, 193–95.

glyphglyphProvenance:glyphsee Moffett Collection, p. 462.

glyphglyphEmendations and textual notes:glyph

issue • is[white diamond] |sue

liar. Meeting • liar[white diamond] Meeting

retract.” • retract[white diamond]