Friday, May 10, 2019

An Enlightening Comstock Lode Conversation

"Mining on the Comstock" depicts the various mines' headframes and mills. It also showcases the at-the-time revolutionary square-set timbering that made the dangerous mines safer. Areas shown: Virginia City and Gold Hill. Public domain. Source: Wikipedia. Drawing source: T.L. Dawes (drawing); Le Count Bros., San Francisco (lithographers). Available from the U.S. Library of Congress.


The legendary Comstock Lode not only produced great material riches, but one can find veins of literary prose that rank among the finest writing of the time in Western Civilization.

The excerpts that follow are from the book titled "The Comstock Club" by C.C. Goodwin, who was the Salt Lake Daily Tribune's editor when he wrote the book, published in 1891.

In it, he uses a literary back-and-forth that reveals erudite prose that is of itself poetic. It is a style that one would be hard-put to find in contemporary journalism. Goodwin laments for the Comstock workers' sacrifices. He thought of the miners as heroic as soldiers on any battlefield.

Goodwin unmasks the trade-off of such strenuous and risky work and the loss of one's youth. By the time a miner realizes his youthful vigor has been exhausted underground or aboveground, he realizes it's too late for many of the things he once envisioned for himself.

In essence, this intro is an ode to those with high-minded ideals having to set aside such worthy worldly endeavors while consumed by every-day work in some of the most-difficult and -dangerous occupations on Earth.

In a brilliant transition, the author then allows the voice of someone who has not been worn down by the exhaustion of mine work. In a poignant rebuke to the reality of the common-man miner, a lawyer unleashes an equally prosaic speech that touches upon the positive benefits of such unheralded and arduous work.

One can imagine a person who holds both views. While seemingly in conflict, they may reflect a universal dichotomy of work wearing down a person while at the same time recognizing the greater value of that work to society as a whole.

Or, perhaps the conversation shows that the hard work of the common man is underappreciated by those who make what is an extravagant living compared to the modern wage-earner. Professions that without the common man would be impossible to achieve, including the education that turns out lawyers, bankers, doctors and those whose, by comparison, comfortable lives depend upon the often backbreaking work of the common man – in this case a miner.

There are multiple universal themes within this conversation that the reader may discover. Let's not delay any longer!

The Comstock Club


"The pioneer! Who shall fitly tell the story of his life and work?

"The soldier leads an assault; it lasts but a few minutes; he knows that whether he lives or dies, immortality will be his reward. What wonder that there are brave soldiers!

"But when this soldier of peace assaults the wilderness, no bugles sound the charge; the forest, the desert, the wild beast, the savage, the malaria, the fatigue, are the foes that lurk to ambush him, and if, against the unequal odds, he falls, no volleys are fired above him; the pitiless world merely sponges his name from its slate.

"Thus he blazes the trails, thus he fells the trees, thus he plants his rude stakes, thus he faces the hardships, and whatever fate awaits him, his self-contained soul keeps its finger on his lips, and no lamentations are heard.

"He smooths the rugged fields, he turns the streams, and the only cheer that is his is when he sees the grain ripen, and the flowers bloom where before was only the frown of the wilderness. When over the trail that he has blazed, enlightenment comes joyously, with unsoiled sandals, and homes and temples spring up on the soil that was first broken by him, his youth is gone, hope has been chastened into silence within him; he realizes that he is but a back number.

"Not one in a thousand realizes the texture of the manhood that has been exhausting itself within him; few comprehend his nature or have any conception of his work."

"But he is content. The shadows of the wilderness have been chased away; the savage beast and savage man have retired before him; nature has brought her flowers to strew the steps of his old age; in his soul he feels that somewhere the record of his work and of his high thoughts has been kept; and so he smiles upon the younger generation and is content.

"May that contentment be his to the end."

It was an anniversary night in Pioneer Hall, in Virginia City, Nevada, one July night in 1878, and the foregoing were the closing words of a little impromptu speech that Alex Strong had delivered.

A strange, many-sided man was Alex Strong. He was an Argonaut. {In common parlance, an Argonaut is a person who looks for gold. Historical texts define an Argonaut in terms of Greek mythology.} When the first tide set in toward the Golden Coast, he, but a lad, with little save a pony and a gun, joined a train that had crossed the Missouri and was headed westward.

The people in the company looked upon him as a mere boy, but, later, when real hardships were encountered and sickness came, the boy became the life of the company. When women and children drooped under the burdens and the fear of the wilderness, it was his voice that cheered them on; his gun secured the tender bit of antelope or grouse to tempt their failing appetites; his songs drove away the silence of the desert.

He was for the company a lark at morn, a nightingale at night.

Arriving in California, he sought the hills. When his claim would not pay he indicted scornful songs to show his 'defiance of luck.' Some of these were published in the mountain papers, and then a few people knew that somewhere in miner's garb a genius was hiding. Amid the hills, in his cabin, he was an incessant reader, and with his books, his friction against men and in the study of nature's mighty alphabet, as left upon her mountains, with the going by of the years he rounded into a cultured, alert, sometimes pathetic and sometimes boisterous man, but always a shrewd, all-around man of affairs.

When we greet him he had been for several years a brilliant journalist.

He had jumped up to make a little speech in Pioneer Hall, and the last words of his speech are given above.

When he had finished another pioneer, Colonel Savage, was called upon. He was always prepared to make a speech. He delighted, moreover, in taking the opposite side to Strong. So springing to his feet, he cried out:

"Too serious are the words of my friend. What of hardships, when youth, the beautiful, walks by one's side! What of danger when one feels a young heart throbbing in his breast!

"Who talks of loneliness while as yet no fetter has been welded upon hope, while yet the unexplored and unpeopled portions of God's world beckon the brave to come to woo and to possess them!

"The pioneers were not unhappy. The air is still filled with the echoes of the songs that they sung; their bright sayings have gone into the traditions; the impression which they made upon the world is a monument which will tell of their achievements, record their sturdy virtues and exalt their glorified names."

As the Colonel ceased and some one else was called upon to talk, Strong motioned to Savage and both noiselessly sought some vacant seats in the rear of the hall.

Colonel Savage was another genius. He was a young lawyer in New York when the first news of gold discoveries in California was carried to that city. He, with a hundred others, chartered a bark that was lying idle in the harbor, had her fitted up and loaded, and in her made a seven months' voyage around the Cape to San Francisco. He was the most versatile of the Argonauts. Every mood of poor human nature found a response in him. At a funeral he shamed the mourners by the sadness of his face; at a festival he added a sparkle to the wines; he could convulse a saloon with a story; he could read a burial service with a pathos that stirred every heart, and so his life ran on until when we find him he had been several years a leading member of a brighter bar than ever before was seen in a town of the size of Virginia City.

He was a tall, handsome man, his face was classical, and all his bearing, even when all unbent, was that of a high-born, self-contained and self-respecting man.

Strong, on the other hand, was of shorter statue; his face was the perfect picture of mirthfulness; there was a wonderful magnetism in his smile and hand-clasp; but when in repose a close look at his face revealed, below the mirthfulness, that calm which is the close attendant upon conscious power.

"As they reached their seats Alex spoke: "You were awfully good to-night, Colonel."

"Of course; I always am. But what has awakened your appreciation to-night?'"

"I thought my speech was horrible."

"For once it would require a brave man to doubt your judgment," said the Colonel, sententiously {moralistically}.

"I was sure of it until I heard you speak; then I recovered my self-respect, believing that, by comparison, my speech would ring in the memories of the listeners, like a psalm." ...

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