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Mark Twain
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The Trouble Starts At Eight 1865-1866
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“I was home again, in San Francisco, without means and without employment. I tortured my brain for a saving scheme of some kind, and at last a public lecture occurred to me! I sat down and wrote one, in a fever of hopeful anticipation. I showed it to several friends, but they all shook their heads. They said nobody would come to hear me, and I would make a humiliating failure of it. They said that as I had never spoken in public, I would break down in the delivery, anyhow. I was disconsolate now. But at last an editor slapped me on the back and told me to ‘go ahead.’ He said, ‘Take the largest house in town, and charge a dollar a ticket.’ The audacity of the proposition was charming; it seemed fraught with practical worldly wisdom, however.

The proprietor of the several theatres endorsed the advice, and said I might have his handsome new opera-house at half price—fifty dollars. In sheer desperation I took it—on credit, for sufficient reasons. In three days I did a hundred and fifty dollars’ worth of printing and advertising, and was the most distressed and frightened creature on the Pacific coast. I could not sleep—who could, under such circumstances? For other people there was facetiousness in the last line of my posters, but to me it was plaintive with a pang when I wrote it: ‘Doors open at 7 1/2. The trouble will begin at 8.’”—Mark Twain, Roughing It, 1872

Portrait in Constantinople, October 6, 1867
Portrait in Constantinople,
October 6, 1867

Courtesy of The Mark Twain House, Hartford
Audio Real Audio: 56k  
“And I began to talk.”

Maguire's Academy of Music
Maguire’s Academy of Music
Courtesy of the Society of California Pioneers
Lecture Hall
Courtesy of the Library of Congress

“I recall the occasion of my first appearance...I got to the theatre forty-five minutes before the hour set for the lecture. My knees were shaking so that I didn’t know whether I could stand up. If there is an awful, horrible malady in the world, it is stage fright—and seasickness. They are a pair. I had stage—fright then for the first and last time. I was only sea-sick once, too. It was on a little ship on which there were two hundred other passengers. I—was—sick. I was so sick there wasn’t any left for the other passengers.

I had got a number of friends of mine, stalwart men, to sprinkle themselves through the audience armed with big clubs. Every time I said anything they could possibly guess I intended to be funny they were to pound those clubs on the floor. Then there was a kind lady in a box up there, also a good friend of mine, the wife of the Governor. She was to watch me intently, and whenever I glanced towards her she was going to deliver a gubernatorial laugh that would lead the whole audience into applause.

Well, after the first agonizing five minutes, my stage-fright left me, never to return. I know if I’m going to be hanged I could get up and make a good showing, and I intend to.”—Mark Twain, “Mark Twain’s First Appearance” speech, 1906