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"The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" is an 1865 short story by Mark Twain, his first great success as a writer, bringing him national attention. The story has also been published as "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog" (its original title) and "The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County". In it, the narrator retells a story he heard from a bartender, Simon Wheeler, at the Angels Hotel in Angels Camp, California, about the gambler Jim Smiley. Twain describes him: "If he even seen a straddle bug start to go anywheres, he would bet you how long it would take him to get to wherever he going to, and if you took him up, he would foller that straddle bug to Mexico but what he would find out where he was bound for and how long he was on the road."
"The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" is also the title story of an 1867 collection of short stories by Mark Twain. Twain's first book, it collected 27 stories that were previously published in magazines and newspapers.
Twain first wrote the title short story at the request of his friend Artemus Ward, for inclusion in an upcoming book. Twain worked on two versions but neither was satisfactory to him—neither got around to describing the jumping frog contest. Ward pressed him again, but by the time Twain devised a version he was willing to submit, that book was already nearing publication, so Ward sent it instead to The Saturday Press, where it appeared in the November 18, 1865 edition as "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog". Twain's colorful story was immensely popular, and was soon printed in many different magazines and newspapers. Twain developed the idea further, and Bret Harte published this version in The Californian on December 16; this time titled "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County", and the man named Smiley was changed to Greeley.
Further popularity of the tale led Twain to use the story to anchor his own first book which appeared in 1867, with a first issue run of only 1,000 copies. The first edition was issued in seven colors, with no priority: blue, brown, green, lavender, plum, terra-cotta and red, and is sought after by book collectors, fetching thousands of dollars at auctions. In the book version, Twain changed Greeley back to Smiley.
The narrator is sent by a friend to interview an old man, Simon Wheeler, who might know the location of an old acquaintance named Leonidas W. Smiley. The narrator finds Simon at the "decayed mining camp of Angel's". The narrator asks the fat, bald-headed man about Leonidas. Simon responds that he doesn't know a Leonidas Smiley, but he knows a Jim Smiley. Simon then tells a story about Jim.
Jim Smiley loves to bet. He bets on anything from the death of Parson Walker's wife, to fights between his bulldog pup (named Andrew Jackson) and other dogs.
Once, Jim caught a frog and named it Dan'l Webster. For three months, he trained the frog to jump. At the end of those three months, the frog could jump over more ground than any other. Jim carried the frog around in a box.
One day, a stranger to the town asks Jim what is in his box. Jim says that it is a frog that can outjump any other frog in Calaveras County. The stranger looks at the frog and responds that the frog doesn't look any different than the other frogs of Calaveras County, so he mustn't be the best. The stranger tells Jim that if he had a frog, he'd bet $40 that his frog could beat Jim's.
Jim agrees to the bet, and he gives the box to the stranger to hold while Jim hunts for another frog for the stranger. While Jim is catching the stranger's frog, the stranger pours lead shot into the mouth of Jim's frog.
When Jim returns, he and the stranger arrange the frogs for the contest. They align the frogs evenly, and on the count of three they let them loose. The freshly-caught frog jumps away, but Dan'l Webster doesn't budge.
Jim is surprised and disgusted. He gives the money to the stranger and the stranger happily leaves. Jim wonders why Dan'l looks so heavy. He takes the frog and tips him upside down. The frog coughs up handfuls of shot. Jim sets the frog down, and chases after the stranger. The stranger is long gone, however, and Jim never catches him.
At this point in his story, Wheeler is called away by someone on the front porch, and he tells the narrator to remain seated. The narrator realizes that Jim Smiley isn't the least bit related to Leonidas W. Smiley, and prepares to leave. Simon catches the narrator at the door, and starts telling him another story about Jim's one-eyed cow. The narrator excuses himself and leaves.
Upon discovering a French translation of this story, Twain back-translated the story into English, word for word, retaining the French grammatical structure and syntax. He then published all three versions under the title "The Jumping Frog: in English, then in French, and then Clawed Back into a Civilized Language Once More by Patient, Unremunerated Toil".
In "Private History of the ‘Jumping Frog’ Story," he recounted some background to the tale—in particular, his surprise to find that the story bore a striking resemblance to an ancient Greek tale. He wrote:
Now, then, the interesting question is, did the frog episode happen in Angel’s Camp in the spring of ‘49, as told in my hearing that day in the fall of 1865? I am perfectly sure that it did. I am also sure that its duplicate happened in Boeotia a couple of thousand years ago. I think it must be a case of history actually repeating itself, and not a case of a good story floating down the ages and surviving because too good to be allowed to perish.
Later, however, in November 1903, Twain noted:
When I became convinced that the "Jumping Frog" was a Greek story two or three thousand years old, I was sincerely happy, for apparently here was a most striking and satisfactory justification of a favorite theory of mine—to wit, that no occurrence is sole and solitary, but is merely a repetition of a thing which has happened before, and perhaps often.... By-and-by, in England, after a few years, I learned that there hadn't been any Greek frog in the business, and no Greek story about his adventures. Professor Sidgwick [in his textbook for students learning to translate English texts into Greek, Greek Prose Composition, p. 116] had not claimed that it was a Greek tale; he had merely synopsized the Calaveras tale and transferred the incident to classic Greece; but as he did not state that it was the same old frog, the English papers reproved him for the omission. He told me this in England in 1899 or 1900, and was much troubled about that censure, for his act had been innocent, he believing that the story's origin was so well known as to render formal mention of it unnecessary.
But in his Note To The Thirteenth Edition (1907), among "hearty .. thanks for the help received", Prof. Sidgwick still failed to acknowledge his use of the Twain tale.
Lukas Foss composed The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, an opera in two scenes with libretto by Jean Karsavina, based on Twain's story. The opera premiered on May 18, 1950, at Indiana University.
The short-story collection The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches, Twain's first book, contains twenty-seven short stories and sketches.
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