Mark Twain and the Jumping Frog (1865 November 18th)


Mark Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” was first published in the November 18,1865, edition of The New York Saturday Press, under the title “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog.” The story is set in a gold-mining camp in Calaveras County, California, and has its roots in the legends of the Gold Rush era. It was one of Twain’s initial writings, and helped launch his reputation as a humorist. He eventually included it as the title story in his first collection of tales.

What is The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County About and Is It Really True or Fake?

How can we not care about a frog that jumps really high except when he is force-fed lead shot? But really, this tale proves to us the power of storytelling, and that just about anything can be fascinating, if it is told well (and with an accent).

When Mark Twain headed out to Nevada in 1861, hoping to strike it rich in the silver boom, he began writing for a newspaper called the Territorial Enterprise. There, he and his fellow “journalists” would create news sometimes (for kicks) and would try to make the most ludicrous circumstances seem like the “real” news to readers. They would have contests to see who could create the most absurd yet credible stories (source). Basically, they were pioneers in the “fake news media.”

The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County Is It A Tale of Deceit or Cleverness?

Though Jim Smiley seems to be extremely lucky, it is partly through his wily and cunning ways that he is able to win bets. He is finally outsmarted by a stranger, who beats him through dishonest. Nonetheless, the story poses a moral distinction between honest and fraudulent cleverness. It also shows that you don’t necessarily have to be educated and well spoken to be clever, nor is a good education a defense against getting fooled.

Although this story is full of messages about the differences between the West and the East, and about education, the main lesson is about the rules of fair play.

Though Jim Smiley “deceives” people by betting on his animals that don’t look like they can ever win, his dishonesty is innocent in contrast to the stranger’s. All gambling is an attempt to deceive, so Smiley’s opponents should know what they are getting into.  As the saying goes…all fair in love and war, and apparently frog jumping too.

Contrast Of Regions, ie He’s From Over There:

Though the eastern and western United States aren’t exactly contrasted in this short story, we do see a difference between the educated, refined narrator from the East (who also happens to be “green”) and the uneducated but slick characters who populate Angel’s mining camp in the West. The characters in the West love a good tall tale, while the narrator appears to find it pointless and tedious, but maybe that’s because he doesn’t get it

The Melting Pot Before There was a Melting Pot and The Merits of Foreigners.

Twain was exploring the idea of America’s strength resulting from its status as melting pot of various culture, histories and ideologies even before it was known as “pluralism.”. The story was published in 1865 and while immigrants had always been a vital constituent of American growth, the long lines at Ellis Island was still a very long way off. In revealing that the prejudices of both the East and West may be unjustified and in showing that the frontier Americans could be trusted with spreading the literal concept and the symbolic weight of America as a grand experiment in democracy, Twain’s story can be read as an allegory of the American melting pot. It takes all kinds and all kinds are going to be necessary to make this idea work across such an enormous expanse of geography, the story says. At a time when much of the East’s negative perception of those settling the frontier was informed by the very real possibility that much of that land might be lost to Mexicans, Indians or some foreign power, one can only assume that the optimistic name of the westerner who gets the better of the easterner was not chosen randomly.

The Satirist Tale of Swift in Gulliver’s Travels published 1726 October 28th


Gulliver’s Travels is Swift’s most famous work published on October 28, 1726.  The full title of Swift’s work was “Gulliver’s Travels or Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts, by Lemuel Gulliver, first a surgeon, and then a captain of several ships”.

The original version is surely NOT a children’s book

Most readers will lovingly remember Gulliver as a children’s book, but the unexpurgated version is full of brutality. The unfeelingly logical Houyhnhnms – highly intelligent horse-like creatures – plan to wipe out the bestial humanoid Yahoos by castrating them all. This plan is stimulated by Gulliver’s description of how horses are treated in England.

There is a particularly disagreeable scene in the Lilliput voyage where Gulliver urinates on the queen’s home to quench a overwhelming fire. This is routinely included in the children’s edition, albeit in sanitised form. And then there’s the scene in one of Gulliver’s final adventures where our hero has to fend off a highly libidinous female Yahoo who appears intent on raping him.

Making up new words

Gulliver’s Travels has given the English language a number of prominent words, not least Houyhnhnm (move your lips like a horse when saying it). There’s also Yahoo, an uneducated ruffian; brobdingnagian, meaning huge, after the giants in the second voyage; and lilliputian, meaning small, after the miniature humans of the first voyage.

A  man of many puns

Swift also loved puns. Lindalino, a most unusual place, is another name for Dublin (double “lin”). The flying city of Laputa is a harsh allegory of England and its colonial dominion over Ireland – the name means “the whore” in Spanish (la puta). As for the kingdom of Tribnia, it is an anagram of Britain. Its residents call it Langden, an anagram of England.

A novel in which real persons or events figure under disguise

Like any effective satirist, Swift had many enemies. Britain’s first prime minister, Robert Walpole, is recreated as Flimnap, who as the pompous Lord High Treasurer of Lilliput has an equivalent role in their society. Either the Duke of Marlborough or Earl of Nottingham is the inspiration for his war-hungry governmental counterpart Skyresh Bolgolam, the Lord High Admiral of Lilliput.

Other authority figures are roundly mocked throughout the book. The pettiness of politicians – Whigs and Tories alike – is compellingly conveyed by rendering them small. That moment where Gulliver urinates on the palace is sometimes interpreted as a reference to the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713, which ceded Gibraltar to the UK – and by which the Tories put out the fire of the War of Spanish Succession with some very ungentlemanly conduct.

Gulliver goes to Mars and Shift gets a moon

The book jokingly mentions the presence of moons around Mars. After Phobos and Deimos were discovered by astronomers in 1872, Swift crater on Deimos was named in the Irishman’s honour.

MISC Conflict and Themes

On the surface, Gulliver strives to understand the various societies with which he comes into contact and to have these societies understand his native England. Below the surface, Swift is engaged in a conflict with the English society he is satirizing. Might versus right; the individual versus society; the limits of human understanding.

All The World Would Be Upside Down: Yorktown Surrender 1781 October 19th


The British Surrender at Yorktown October 19, 1781

America declared its independence in 1776, but it took another five years to win a battle that spelled the end for the British.  That day came on October 19, 1781, when the British General Charles Cornwallis surrendered his troops in Yorktown, Virginia.

The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis is an oil painting by John Trumbull. The painting was completed in 1820, and hangs in the rotunda of the United States Capitol in Washington, D. C. (see above)  The cast of characters (along with two extra canines – Wyatt and Gavin numbers 34 and 35) is provided below:


French intervention made the British position in America much more tenuous.

Until 1778, the British army had been able to depend on the dominance of the Royal Navy. After all, they were successful o the world stage.  British troops could be transported anywhere along the Atlantic coast of the colonies, and British generals had no need to fear for their extended Atlantic supply line.  The British plans got complicated when until leaders in Paris gummed up the works.   Once the French joined the war, their navy posed an immediate threat. If French ships could get on the same playbook with American troops on land, isolated British garrisons could be captured.

At first, the French and Americans failed to co-ordinate their operations.  However at Yorktown, Virginia, they succeeded to dramatic effect in autumn 1781. Their success lead to the defeat of the British. General Cornwallis’s British army was trapped by American and French troops and cut off from relief by the French navy. Cornwallis’s surrender effectively ended the war in America        

General Cornwallis brought 8,000 British troops to Yorktown. They relied on help from British ships sent from New York. The British ships never arrived.  The British navy was intercepted by the French.The French navy kept British ships from entering through the York River or Chesapeake Bay  The British returned to New York. That was lucky for General George Washington and the Continental army. The thirteen colonies found their opportunity to beat the world’s largest empire.

On September 5, 1781, at the Battle of the Capes, a French fleet under the Comte de Grasse forced a British fleet to return to New York City. It was de Grasse who decided to sail to the Chesapeake, and not New York City – changing the course of the war.

French troops led by General Jean-Baptiste Rochambeau joined General Washington.  Rochambeau and Washington gathered an army of 17,000 soldiers to take Yorktown back from the British in early October. The army continued a siege on Yorktown. They surrounded the town. The siege cut off supplies.  The joint American-French force laid siege to Yorktown, with Alexander Hamilton also involved in an attack to capture a key British defensive position.

After awhile, the British ran out of food and ammunition. They could not continue fighting.

Following an abortive attempt to evacuate his army from Yorktown, Lord Charles Cornwallis faced the reality that aid from Sir Henry Clinton would not arrive in time. French and American guns resumed bombardment of the British position at dawn on October 17. By mid-morning, Cornwallis came to a decision and sent a drummer to a visible location on the fortification, where he beat out the call for a parley. The guns were quickly silenced and a British officer came forward to the American lines; he was blindfolded and taken to confer with George Washington.

On October 17, 1781, aides appointed by Cornwallis started surrender negotiations with Washington’s subordinates.

One surrender condition seemed harsh and it was related to treatment by Cornwallis’s superior officer, General Henry Clinton, of the American General Benjamin Lincoln.

A little over a year earlier, Clinton had forced Lincoln to surrender his force of about 5,000 troops after British forces laid siege to Charleston, South Carolina. Then Clinton insulted Lincoln by not allowing the Americans to surrender with honor by displaying their colors and playing a song to honor the British. General Lincoln was then exchanged for another prisoner, and by the time of the Yorktown siege he was Washington’s second-in-command on the battlefield.

The formal surrender ceremony was held October 19, 1781.

British agreed to the Washington’s capitulation  terms, but then Cornwallis refused to meet Washington in public to finalize the surrender. Claiming he was ill, Cornwallis sent the Irish General, Charles O’Hara, with Cornwallis’s sword. The British-German forces were denied the same surrender honors as Lincoln’s forces had experienced in Charleston.

At the end of the surrender march, General O’Hara offered the sword to Washington, who turned to Lincoln and instructed Lincoln to receive O’Hara’s sword and supervise the surrender of arms.

Washington refused to make the same mistake that had been made four years earlier by Horatio Gates in the surrender at Saratoga, where the defeated soldiers were allowed to return to their homes in exchange for a promise not to reenter the war in North America at a later point. The obvious problem with such leniency was that those soldiers could be assigned to another theater, thus replacing soldiers in that location who could then be sent to America.

Terms included the following provisions:

surrendering soldiers were to march out of their fortification with colors folded, surrender their arms at a predetermined location, then depart to detention2

British officers were allowed to keep their side arms and to depart to Britain, or to a British-occupied American port.  Officers and soldiers were allowed to retain personae possessions.

In a breech of military etiquette, Cornwallis declined to attend the surrender ceremony, claiming illness. The second in command, Brigadier General Charles O’Hara, filled that role. To avoid the humiliation of turning over Cornwallis’ sword to Washington — known contemptuously to many British as “General Buckskin” — O’Hara attempted to present the token to General Rochambeau. The French commander refused to accept the sword and pointed to Washington. When O’Hara turned to make the presentation, Washington called on his second-in-command, General Benjamin Lincoln, to accept. Thus, General Buckskin won some satisfaction in the wake of his humiliation at the surrender of Charleston.


According to a widely recounted report, the defeated army departed to the strains of The World Turned Upside Down, a popular song whose words in part expressed the sentiments of the day:

If ponies rode men and grass ate cows,

And cats were chased into holes by the mouse . . .

If summer were spring and the other way round,

Then all the world would be upside down.

If ponies rode men and grass ate cows,

And cats were chased into holes by the mouse . . .

If summer were spring and the other way round,

Then all the world would be upside down.

There is some dispute as to whether the British actually played “The World Turned Upside Down” as they surrendered at Yorktown. Tradition says yes, but at least one scholar has claimed that the earliest mention of the song being played as arms were laid down didn’t occur until 1828, almost fifty years after the event.

Contemporary accounts are certain, however, of the importance “Yankee Doodle” had in the ceremony. Henry Knox, Washington’s chief of artillery, says that the British band was specifically not allowed to play the song. The Marquis de Lafayette writes that the French army played the song to “discomfort” the British as they marched from the fort between the French and Americans.