Meet Mark Twain

Ladies and gentlemen: The next lecture in this course will be delivered this evening, by Samuel L. Clemens, a gentleman whose high character and unimpeachable integrity are only equaled by his comeliness of person and grace of manner. And I am the man!

So Mark Twain introduced himself at the beginning of his first ever talk, delivered on this day in 1866. Twain had spent five months in Hawaii earlier that year; as the two dozen reports he wired back to the Sacramento Union newspaper helped launch his career as a print humorist, so “Our Fellow Savages of the Sandwich Islands,” delivered nearly a hundred times over the next seven years, brought him fame as a platform entertainer:

The Sandwich Islands will be the subject of my lecture — when I get to it — and I shall endeavor to tell the truth as nearly as a newspaper man can. If I embellish it with a little nonsense, that makes no difference; it won’t mar the truth; it is only as the barnacle ornaments the oyster by sticking to it. That figure is original with me! I was born back from tidewater and don’t know as the barnacle does stick to the oyster.…

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.