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Lost Mark Twain stories recovered by UC Berkeley scholars

'This is new stuff, even for Mark Twain fans,' says Twain scholar Bob Hirst

Scholars at UC Berkeley have tracked down 110 early newspaper columns written by Mark Twain that, up until now, had been considered lost. The Associated Press reports that the Mark Twain Project at Berkeley, which unearthed the columns, plans to publish them in a forthcoming book.

In 1865 and '66, Twain wrote a six-day-a-week column about San Francisco for the Territorial Enterprise of Virginia City, Nev. Both cities were mining boom towns -- Virginia City with silver, and San Francisco with gold -- taking hold on the Western frontier. Twain's column took the form of a "letter from San Francisco" about life there.

Twain, then 29, wrote humorously about miners, cops and corruption. It was early in his career, and the letters show him finding his voice.

"This is a very special period in his life, when he's out here in San Francisco," Bob Hirst, general editor of the Mark Twain Project, told the AP. "He's utterly free, he's not encumbered by a marriage or much of anything else, and he can speak his mind and does speak his mind. These things are wonderful to read, the ones that survived."

Twain's stories had been lost when the archives of the Territorial Enterprise were destroyed in a series of fires. Scholars at Berkeley combed through the archives of other Western papers searching for reprints of those columns, many of which were unsigned.

"This is new stuff, even for Mark Twain fans," Hirst told the San Francisco Chronicle.

An additional document revealed by the Mark Twain Project is a letter from Twain to his brother in which the future author of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" seems to be at the end of his rope. Apparently drinking, in debt, and questioning what to do next, Twain wrote, "If I do not get out of debt in three months — pistols or poison for one — exit me."

Hirst believes that's a revealing moment, a rare flash of honest vulnerability from the future bestselling author. "He was in the middle of an identity crisis," Hirst told the Washington Post. "He was facing debt and had not embraced his talent. He was tormented by it. He was drinking too much and didn’t know what to do with himself. He thought humor was literature of a low order."

A book with the rediscovered Twain letters is expected in about 18 months.

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