Mark Twain first rose to fame as the author of an essay about a frog-jumping contest in California. Originally titled “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog,” the essay went viral in America’s biggest newspapers, eventually inspiring the New York Tribune to write of Twain that “no reputation was ever so rapidly won.” Yet the humor which made the essay so popular is often lost on modern audiences, in no small part because, as Ben Turnoff writes in Lapham’s Quarterly, frontier humor isn’t funny if there’s no Wild West.
A Jump in Stature
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