On July 14, 1895, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, fifty-nine years old and deeply in debt, boarded a night train to Cleveland, launching a performance tour designed to alleviate his financial woes, and, more importantly, resuscitate his alter ego, Mark Twain. The journey took him to Fiji, Australia, New Zealand, India, and South Africa, and led to the resurrection of Twain as a celebrity. Equal parts travelogue, social history, and biography, Around the World with Mark Twain paints a decidedly different portrait of Clemens: a more tragic, darker figure who faced financial ruin and personal loss throughout his life. Around the World with Mark Twain delights while deepening our understanding of this magnificent personality.
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ELMIRA, THE SEAT OF CHEMUNG COUNTY, is a small town in New York State, about ten miles from the Pennsylvania line. Now, one hundred years after the Clemenses embarked on their tour, the Huek Finn Little League Ball Park adjoins Elmira's Holiday Inn, where Weight Watchers meet in the Becky Thatcher Room. You can walk from the hotel to the Mark Twain Riverfront Park, which follows the meandering Chemung River. Turning north, you will find the Samuel L. Clemens Performing Arts Center. Nearby is a tall red brick structure, the Connecticut Yankee Building, from which you can catch a bus to the Mark Twain Motel, formerly the Tom Sawyer Motel. The phone number at the Chemung County Chamber of Commerce, in downtown Elmira, is 800-MARK-TWAIN. If you call, you will hear the receptionist answer, "Hello, Mark Twain Country" Elmira's attachment to Mark Twain stems from his summer visits. During the 1870s and 1880s, Sam and Olivia Clemens spent most summers at Quarry Farm, the home of Olivia Clemens's sister and brother-in-law, Susan and Theodore Crane.
In 1874, the Clemenses' second summer in Elmira, the Cranes surprised their brother-in-law with a study that they had created for him. It stood above their house on a knoll about 100 yards away. A small octagonal room built of oak, with a peaked roof and a window on each of its eight sides, it suggested the pilot house of a Mississippi steamboat, offering its occupant splendid views in all directions. From this hideaway, Clemens could look down at the distant town and its river and across at the blue hills beyond.
After a steak breakfast, he would climb the hill to his study and write without a break until late afternoon. There, undisturbed by domestic life, he composed much of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Life on the Mississippi, The Prince and the Pauper, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.
"It is a cozy nest," he wrote to friends, "with just room in it for a sofa and a table and three or four chairs — and when the storms sweep down the remote valley and the lightning flashes above the hills beyond, and the rain beats upon the roof over my head, imagine the luxury of it!" Clemens viewed his summers at Quarry Farm as "a foretaste of Heaven."
"The city in the valley is purple with shade, as seen from up here at the study," he wrote to his brother's wife on a summer Sunday in 1885. "The Cranes are reading and loafing in the canvas-curtained summerhouse, fifty yards away, on a higher (the highest) point; the cats are loafing over at Ellerslie, which is the children's estate and dwelling-house in their own private grounds (by deed from Susie Crane), a hundred yards from the study, among the clover and young oaks and willows. Livy is down at the house, but I shall now go and bring her up to the Cranes to help us occupy the lounges and hammocks, whence a great panorama of distant hills and valley and city is seeable. The children have gone on a lark through the neighboring hills ... with the coachman for comrade and assistant at need. It is a perfect day indeed."
Clemens was a familiar figure in Elmira, a booming and progressive industrial community. When he walked into town in his white linen suit and wide-brimmed straw hat, played billiards at the Century Club, gossiped with reporters at the Elmira Daily Advertiser, or spun yarns within the marble and walnut sanctum of Klapproth's Saloon, he was recognized not only as Mark Twain but also as a relative of the Langdons, one of the town's richest and most distinguished families. His father-in-law, Jervis Langdon, began his career as a country storekeeper, but he amassed a fortune from the mining and transport of coal. Although a flint-eyed businessman, he was a model of civic responsibility, a philanthropist who supported numerous progressive causes, including the education of blacks and women.
Today you can still walk from downtown Elmira to Quarry Farm on East Hill, two and a half miles away, as Clemens often used to do. One hundred years ago, you would have found four stone watering troughs, which the Clemenses had installed along the steep ascent, for the benefit of the horses that labored up to the house. Each trough was inscribed with the name of one of the Clemenses' children. Two of the troughs, in which flowers are now planted, stand near the house today.
The wooden, two-storied, gabled and dormered structure that the Clemenses knew, with its deep, arcaded and trellised front porch, is still recognizable, although the house was later enlarged and its exterior trim changed. Quarry Farm was a refuge for both of the Clemenses. It gave him uninterrupted time to write. It gave her a welcome respite from constant entertaining and from managing a household so elaborate it required the services of six full-time servants.
Quarry Farm, which Olivia Clemens's great-nephew presented to Elmira College, is not open to the public, but Gretchen Shadow, director of the college's Center for Mark Twain Studies, has kindly invited me to see it. She has shown me the house and taken me up to the knoll where the study once stood. We have returned to the front porch, where Clemens's family would gather to hear him read from his day's work. The upholstered chairs and the patterned and fringed carpet that once furnished the porch are gone, but a few simple rocking chairs relieve the bareness.
Ms. Shadow has left me alone for a moment. I look out at "the great panorama of distant hills and valley and city" and listen to the silence. It is about four-thirty in the afternoon. Just about now, Clemens would be descending the stone steps from his study, a sheaf of completed pages in one hand, a fresh cigar in the other.
When you go back to town, you can visit his study, which was moved to the campus of Elmira College more than forty years ago. Clemens's father-in-law was a founder and trustee of the institution, which was established as Elmira Female College, the first academy in America to offer a B.A. degree to women. His son-in-law's study now overlooks trim lawns, fountains, Georgian Revival and Gothic Revival buildings, and the black iron fence that once surrounded the Langdons' home and garden.
That stately house, a landmark for almost one hundred years, was demolished in 1939. On the site where Clemens courted Miss Langdon, where their first daughter was born, where Clemens and Rudyard Kipling met, and where one by one five Clemenses were eulogized, you can now buy a pizza at Picnic Pizza, mail a package at Mail Boxes Etc., or negotiate a loan at American General Finance. This complex is called Langdon Plaza.
Across the street stands the church that Langdon's money built. This is the Park Congregational Church, a massive, lofty fieldstone structure with tower and dome. Its founders, Langdon among them, had left the First Presbyterian Church to protest that congregation's refusal to condemn slavery. Like Elmira College, the breakaway church was a pioneering institution, a "church home," perhaps the first church in America to provide parlors, kitchen, playroom, library, and employment service. Now an important issue confronts the congregation: whether to adopt an "open and affirming" policy toward homosexuals.
Another progressive institution of the Clemenses' day, which also still exists, is the New York State Reformatory. Opened in 1877 as the Elmira Reformatory, the prison offered early release to young first offenders if they took classes in academic subjects or in industrial arts. The superintendent, a friend of Clemens's, would invite well-known speakers to address the inmates. Clemens tried out his material on them the night he embarked on his world tour. It was, he reported to Rogers, a "roaring success."
When the Clemenses returned to Elmira in May, after living abroad for several years to reduce their household expenses, Clemens had intended to prepare three programs, or "readings" as he called them, before setting out for Cleveland. During the North American segment of his world tour, he would be performing only once in each town except for Winnipeg, where he would appear twice. But in each of the larger towns of Australasia, India, and South Africa, he planned multiple performances. Because he preferred not to repeat himself in the same town, he would need several programs, which he hoped to prepare in Elmira.
But the carbuncle on his leg kept him bedridden. "My project of preparing and familiarizing myself with three readings, is knocked in the head," he wrote to Rogers in early June. "To do that with one reading is the most that I can do." Three weeks later he was still in bed. "My gracious," he wrote to Rogers, "it looks as if I've got to go on the platform only half prepared!" In his letter to Rogers the next day, he groused, "I'll go to Cleveland on a stretcher, sure." Almost two weeks later he complained to Rogers, "I shan't be able to stand on a platform before we start west ... I've got to stand. I can't sit and talk to a house — and how in the nation am I going to do it? Land of Goshen, it's this night week! Pray for me."
A carbuncle, he wrote on the first page of Following the Equator, "elected" to accompany him on his world tour. "The dictionary," he continued, "says a carbuncle is a kind of jewel. Humor is out of place in a dictionary." The infection on his leg may have been as red as a ruby, but that was its only resemblance to a jewel.
A carbuncle's redness and burning pain explain its name, from the Latin for "small coal." Like a boil, it produces an acute inflammation under the skin, but it covers a larger area and is more severe. In the days before antibiotics, it caused great suffering, often prostrating the patient, as in Clemens's case. If bacteria from pus pockets seep into the bloodstream, death can ensue. It was thought that persons who were depressed or worried were particularly susceptible to the disease.
The Clemenses' night train to Cleveland left from the Erie Railroad Depot, a bandbox of a station house. It was an ivy-clad brick structure of two stories, with striped awnings, a clock tower, a statue of an Indian at one side, and a file of horse-drawn carriages awaiting incoming passengers. One hundred years later, a PRIVATE PROPERTY, NO TRESPASSING sign marks the building, its arched windows and doors boarded up, its ivy, awnings, tower, and statue gone. A hideous railroad viaduct, built during the Great Depression and still scarring the town, disfigures its upper story. Traces of old trolley-car tracks, removed years before, stamp the brick street in front of the entrance, which faces the stray yellow flowers of a vacant lot. In place of a line of carriages stands a lone parked car. Most of the surviving buildings across the street are derelict, their slate sidewalks cracked, broken, and askew.
From the Erie Depot it's a short walk downtown, where vacant storefronts are common, new construction is rare, and the few new buildings are drab. No recent downtown structure reflects the supreme self-confidence of the sumptuous Italian Renaissance Town Hall, erected the year of the Clemenses' tour.
The last passenger train left the Erie station in 1970. Just as one can no longer ship anthracite from the coal mines of Pennsylvania to Chicago entirely by water (Jervis Langdon was the first to do so, sending barges through canals in Pennsylvania and New York and through Lake Seneca and the Great Lakes), one can no longer travel from Elmira to Cleveland, or indeed to any other place, by rail.
You cannot follow the Clemenses' North American itinerary as they did, by trains and Great Lakes steamers. Like Elmira, many of the North American towns that they visited are no longer served by passenger trains, and the Great Lakes steamers disappeared long ago. Even the Great Lakes freighters no longer take passengers.
With the help of a few ferry rides, you can visit all the towns on the Clemenses' North American itinerary by bus, although you will have to double back between towns a few times. But if you are put off by the prospect of waiting for buses in stations as dismal as Elmira's, your only alternative is to drive. So, on July 14, exactly one hundred years after the Clemenses boarded the train in Elmira, I leave for Cleveland in a small white car.CHAPTER 2
WHEN THE CLEMENSES ARRIVED IN CLEVELAND, they repaired to Stillman House, where Clemens, nervous and weak, his leg still painful, went immediately to bed. He cheered up in the afternoon, when reporters from all the morning and evening papers called on him for an interview, the first of scores that he would grant during the course of his world tour.
Despite having to answer the same questions over and over, Clemens willingly submitted to interviews, even when he was tired or ill, as a means of promoting his performances. But promotion was not the whole story. Reporters helped Clemens learn about the local scene, and they served as sounding boards for his impressions. He liked reporters, he could talk to them as an insider, and he relished his interaction with them.
In this first interview, the reporters asked him if he was the author of Joan of Arc, which Clemens had wanted published anonymously for fear it would otherwise not be taken seriously. It was then being serialized in Harper's Magazine.
"I have been asked that question several times," he replied. "I have always considered it wise, however, to leave an unclaimed piece of literary property alone, until time has shown that no one is going to claim it. Then it is safe to acknowledge that you wrote that whether you did or not. It is in this way that I have become recognized, and respected, as the author of 'Beautiful Snow,' 'Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep,' and other literary gems."
His performance that evening began late, because the enthusiastic friends and relations of a newly married couple, who preceded him with a program of flute and violin solos, demanded and received encores. Even worse, because the performance benefited a newsboys' home, five hundred newsboys sat along a high tier of benches on the platform, "which made them," as he wrote to Rogers the next day, "the most conspicuous object in the house. And there was nobody to watch them or keep them quiet. Why, with their seuf-flings and horse-play and noise, it was just a menagerie ... They flowed past my back in clattering shoals, some leaving the house, others returning for more skylarking!"
Nonetheless, he told Rogers, "I got started magnificently." After hobbling onto the stage of the beastly hot Music Hall, the largest auditorium in Cleveland ("4,200 people present at prices ranging from 25 cents to $1.00," noted his manager), he introduced a scheme for the regeneration of the human race. "I was solicited to go around the world on a lecture tour by a man in Australia. I asked him what they wanted to be lectured on. He wrote back that those people ... would like something solid, something in the way of education, something gigantic; and he proposed that I prepare about three or four lectures at any rate, on just morals, any kind of morals, but just morals, and I liked that idea. I liked it very much, and was perfectly willing to engage in that kind of work, and I should like to teach morals ... I do not like to have them taught to me, and I do not know of any duller entertainment than that, but I know I can produce a quality of goods that will satisfy those people."
He would, he continued, illustrate his lecture on moral principles with examples of actual transgressions. Crimes, he asserted slowly and solemnly, are "not given to you to be thrown away but for a great purpose." If you impress upon your mind the lesson from each crime you commit, you will never commit that crime again, which will enable you to "lay up in that way, course by course, the edifice of a personally perfect moral character." There are 462 crimes, he said, a number which he changed from performance to performance. "When you have committed your 462 you are released of every other possibility and have ascended the staircase of faultless creation, and you finally stand with your 462 complete with absolute moral perfection, and I am more than two-thirds up there. It is immense inspiration to find yourself climbing that way, and have not much further to go."
The stories that followed were offered as elaborations on this theme. He told about the first time he stole a watermelon. When he opened it, he found it green. "Now then, I began to reflect ... and I said to myself, I have done wrong; it was wrong in me to steal that watermelon." When he decided to restore it to its rightful owner, as a "right-minded and right-intentioned boy" should do, he "felt that electrical moral uplift which becomes a victory over wrongdoing." He upbraided the farmer for selling a green watermelon to a trusting customer. The farmer was ashamed; "he said he would never do it again, and I believe that I did that man a good turn, as well as one for myself ... I restored the watermelon and made him give me a ripe one. I morally helped him, and I have no doubt that I helped myself at the same time, for that was a lesson which remained with me for my perfection. Ever since that day to this I never stole another one — like that."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Around the World with Mark Twain"
Copyright © 2011 Robert Cooper.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part I: North America,
Part II: Australia,
Part III: New Zealand,
Part IV: India,
Part V: South Africa,
Appendix: Clemens s Itinerary,