Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

The Letters Of Mark Twain, Vol. 1 by Mark Twain

Part 3 out of 3

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.3 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

and a small hang-out; weak, insipid, and a damn fool in general."

In No. 14, June 22d, published July 16th, he tells of the death and
burial ceremonies of the Princess Victoria K. K., and, what was to
be of more importance to him, of the arrival of Anson Burlingame,
U. S. Minister to China, and Gen. Van Valkenburgh, U. S. Minister to
Japan. They were to stay ten or fourteen days, he said, but an
effort would be made to have them stay over July 4th.

Speaking of Burlingame: "Burlingame is a man who could be esteemed,
respected, and popular anywhere, no matter whether he was among
Christians or cannibals." Then, in the same letter, comes the great
incident. "A letter arrived here yesterday, giving a meagre account
of the arrival, on the Island of Hawaii, of nineteen poor, starving
wretches, who had been buffeting a stormy sea, in an open boat, for
forty-three days. Their ship, the Hornet, from New York, with a
quantity of kerosene on board had taken fire and burned in Lat. 2d.
north, and Long. 35d. west. When they had been entirely out of
provisions for a day or two, and the cravings of hunger become
insufferable, they yielded to the ship-wrecked mariner's fearful and
awful alternative, and solemnly drew lots to determine who of their
number should die, to furnish food for his comrades; and then the
morning mists lifted, and they saw land. They are being cared for
at Sanpahoe (Not yet corroborated)."

The Hornet disaster was fully told in his letter of June 27th. The
survivors were brought to Honolulu, and with the assistance of the
Burlingame party, Clemens, laid up with saddle boils, was carried on
a stretcher to the hospital, where, aided by Burlingame, he
interviewed the shipwrecked men, securing material for the most
important piece of serious writing he had thus far performed.
Letter No. 15 to the Union--of date June 25th--occupied the most of
the first page in the issue of July 19. It was a detailed account
of the sufferings of officers and crew, as given by the third
officer and members of the crew.

From letter No. 15:

In the postscript of a letter which I wrote two or three days ago, and
sent by the ship "Live Yankee," I gave you the substance of a letter
received here from Hilo, by Walker Allen and Co., informing them that a
boat, containing fifteen men in a helpless and starving condition, had
drifted ashore at Sanpahoe, Island of Hawaii, and that they had belonged
to the clipper ship "Hornet"--Cap. Mitchell, master--had been afloat
since the burning of that vessel, about one hundred miles north of the
equator, on the third of May--forty-three days.

The Third Mate, and ten of the seamen have arrived here, and are now in
the hospital. Cap. Mitchell, one seaman named Antonio Passene, and two
passengers, Samuel and Henry Ferguson, of New York City, eighteen and
twenty-eight years, are still at Hilo, but are expected here within the
week. In the Captain's modest epitome of the terrible romance you detect
the fine old hero through it. It reads like Grant.

Here follows the whole terrible narrative, which has since been
published in more substantial form, and has been recognized as
literature. It occupied three and a half columns on the front page
of the Union, and, of course, constituted a great beat for that
paper--a fact which they appreciated to the extent of one hundred
dollars the column upon the writer's return from the islands.

In letters Nos. 14. and 15. he gives further particulars of the
month of mourning for the princess, and funeral ceremonials. He
refers to Burlingame, who was still in the islands. The remaining
letters are unimportant.

The Hawaiian episode in Mark Twain's life was one of those spots
that seemed to him always filled with sunlight. From beginning to
end it had been a long luminous dream; in the next letter, written
on the homeward-bound ship, becalmed under a cloudless sky, we
realize the fitting end of the experience.

To Mrs. Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:

ON BOARD SHIP Smyrniote,
AT SEA, July 30, 1866.
DEAR MOTHER AND SISTER,--I write, now, because I must go hard at work as
soon as I get to San Francisco, and then I shall have no time for other
things--though truth to say I have nothing now to write which will be
calculated to interest you much. We left the, Sandwich Islands eight or
ten days--or twelve days ago--I don't know which, I have been so hard at
work until today (at least part of each day,) that the time has slipped
away almost unnoticed. The first few days we came at a whooping gait
being in the latitude of the "North-east trades," but we soon ran out of
them. We used them as long as they lasted-hundred of miles--and came
dead straight north until exactly abreast of San Francisco precisely
straight west of the city in a bee-line--but a long bee-line, as we were
about two thousand miles at sea-consequently, we are not a hundred yards
nearer San Francisco than you are. And here we lie becalmed on a glassy
sea--we do not move an inch-we throw banana and orange peel overboard and
it lies still on the water by the vessel's side. Sometimes the ocean is
as dead level as the Mississippi river, and glitters glassily as if
polished--but usually, of course, no matter how calm the weather is, we
roll and surge over the grand ground-swell. We amuse ourselves tying
pieces of tin to the ship's log and sinking them to see how far we can
distinguish them under water--86 feet was the deepest we could see a
small piece of tin, but a white plate would show about as far down as the
steeple of Dr. Bullard's church would reach, I guess. The sea is very
dark and blue here.

Ever since we got becalmed--five days--I have been copying the diary of
one of the young Fergusons (the two boys who starved and suffered, with
thirteen others, in an open boat at sea for forty-three days, lately,
after their ship, the "Hornet," was burned on the equator.) Both these
boys, and Captain Mitchell, are passengers with us. I am copying the
diary to publish in Harper's Magazine, if I have time to fix it up
properly when I get to San Francisco.

I suppose, from present appearances,--light winds and calms,--that we
shall be two or three weeks at sea, yet--and I hope so--I am in no hurry
to go to work.

Sunday Morning, Aug. 6.
This is rather slow. We still drift, drift, drift along--at intervals a
spanking breeze and then--drift again--hardly move for half a day. But I
enjoy it. We have such snowy moonlight, and such gorgeous sunsets.
And the ship is so easy--even in a gale she rolls very little, compared
to other vessels--and in this calm we could dance on deck, if we chose.
You can walk a crack, so steady is she. Very different from the Ajax.
My trunk used to get loose in the stateroom and rip and tear around the
place as if it had life in it, and I always had to take my clothes off in
bed because I could not stand up and do it.

There is a ship in sight--the first object we have seen since we left
Honolulu. We are still 1300 or 1400 miles from land and so anything like
this that varies the vast solitude of the ocean makes all hands light-
hearted and cheerful. We think the ship is the "Comet," which left
Honolulu several hours before we did. She is about twelve miles away,
and so we cannot see her hull, but the sailors think it is the Comet
because of some peculiarity about her fore-top-gallant sails. We have
watched her all the forenoon.

Afternoon We had preaching on the quarter-deck by Rev. Mr. Rising, of
Virginia City, old friend of mine. Spread a flag on the booby-hatch,
which made a very good pulpit, and then ranged the chairs on either side
against the bulwarks; last Sunday we had the shadow of the mainsail, but
today we were on the opposite tack, close hauled, and had the sun. I am
leader of the choir on this ship, and a sorry lead it is. I hope they
will have a better opinion of our music in Heaven than I have down here.
If they don't a thunderbolt will come down and knock the vessel endways.

The other ship is the Comet--she is right abreast three miles away,
sailing on our course--both of us in a dead calm. With the glasses we
can see what we take to be men and women on her decks. I am well
acquainted with nearly all her passengers, and being so close seems right

Monday 7--I had just gone to bed a little after midnight when the 2d mate
came and roused up the captain and said "The Comet has come round and is
standing away on the other tack." I went up immediately, and so did all
our passengers, without waiting to dress-men, women and children. There
was a perceptible breeze. Pretty soon the other ship swept down upon us
with all her sails set, and made a fine show in the luminous starlight.
She passed within a hundred yards of us, so we could faintly see persons
on her decks. We had two minutes' chat with each other, through the
medium of hoarse shouting, and then she bore away to windward.

In the morning she was only a little black peg standing out of the glassy
sea in the distant horizon--an almost invisible mark in the bright sky.
Dead calm. So the ships have stood, all day long--have not moved 100

Aug. 8--The calm continues. Magnificent weather. The gentlemen have all
turned boys. They play boyish games on the poop and quarter-deck. For
instance: They lay a knife on the fife-rail of the mainmast--stand off
three steps, shut one eye, walk up and strike at it with the fore-finger;
(seldom hit it;) also they lay a knife on the deck and walk seven or
eight steps with eyes close shut, and try to find it. They kneel--place
elbows against knees--extend hands in front along the deck--place knife
against end of fingers--then clasp hands behind back and bend forward and
try to pick up the knife with their teeth and rise up from knees without
rolling over or losing their balance. They tie a string to the shrouds--
stand with back against it walk three steps (eyes shut)--turn around
three times and go and put finger on the string; only a military man can
do it. If you want to know how perfectly ridiculous a grown man looks
performing such absurdities in the presence of ladies, get one to try it.

Afternoon--The calm is no more. There are three vessels in sight. It is
so sociable to have them hovering about us on this broad waste of water.
It is sunny and pleasant, but blowing hard. Every rag about the ship is
spread to the breeze and she is speeding over the sea like a bird. There
is a large brig right astern of us with all her canvas set and chasing us
at her best. She came up fast while the winds were light, but now it is
hard to tell whether she gains or not. We can see the people on the
forecastle with the glass. The race is exciting. I am sorry to know
that we shall soon have to quit the vessel and go ashore if she keeps up
this speed.

Friday, Aug. 10--We have breezes and calms alternately. The brig is two
miles to three astern, and just stays there. We sail directly east--this
brings the brig, with all her canvas set, almost in the eye of the sun,
when it sets--beautiful. She looks sharply cut and black as a coal,
against a background of fire and in the midst of a sea of blood.

San Francisco, Aug. 20.--We never saw the Comet again till the 13th, in
the morning, three miles away. At three o'clock that afternoon, 25 days
out from Honolulu, both ships entered the Golden Gate of San Francisco
side by side, and 300 yards apart. There was a gale blowing, and both
vessels clapped on every stitch of canvas and swept up through the
channel and past the fortresses at a magnificent gait.

I have been up to Sacramento and squared accounts with the Union. They
paid me a great deal more than they promised me.
Yrs aff



It was August 13th when he reached San Francisco and wrote in his
note-book, "Home again. No--not home again--in prison again, and
all the wild sense of freedom gone. City seems so cramped and so
dreary with toil and care and business anxieties. God help me, I
wish I were at sea again!"

The transition from the dreamland of a becalmed sailing-vessel to
the dull, cheerless realities of his old life, and the uncertainties
of his future, depressed him--filled him with forebodings. At one
moment he felt himself on the verge of suicide--the world seemed so
little worth while.

He wished to make a trip around the world, a project that required
money. He contemplated making a book of his island letters and
experiences, and the acceptance by Harper's Magazine of the revised
version of the Hornet Shipwreck story encouraged this thought.

Friends urged him to embody in a lecture the picturesque aspect of
Hawaiian life. The thought frightened him, but it also appealed to
him strongly. He believed he could entertain an audience, once he
got started on the right track. As Governor of the Third House at
Carson City he had kept the audience in hand. Men in whom he had
the utmost confidence insisted that he follow up the lecture idea
and engage the largest house in the city for his purpose. The
possibility of failure appalled him, but he finally agreed to the

In Roughing It, and elsewhere, has been told the story of this
venture--the tale of its splendid success. He was no longer
concerned, now, as to his immediate future. The lecture field was
profitable. His audience laughed and shouted. He was learning the
flavor of real success and exulting in it. With Dennis McCarthy,
formerly one of the partners in the Enterprise, as manager, he made
a tour of California and Nevada.

To Mrs. Jane Clemens and others, in St. Louis:

VIRGINIA CITY, Nov. 1, 1866.
ALL THE FOLKS, AFFECTIONATE GREETING,--You know the flush time's are
past, and it has long been impossible to more than half fill the Theatre
here, with any sort of attraction, but they filled it for me, night
before last--full--dollar all over the house.

I was mighty dubious about Carson, but the enclosed call and some
telegrams set that all right--I lecture there tomorrow night.

They offer a full house and no expense in Dayton--go there next. Sandy
Baldwin says I have made the most sweeping success of any man he knows

I have lectured in San Francisco, Sacramento, Marysville, Grass Valley,
Nevada, You Bet, Red Dog and Virginia. I am going to talk in Carson,
Gold Hill, Silver City, Dayton, Washoe, San Francisco again, and again
here if I have time to re-hash the lecture.

Then I am bound for New York--lecture on the Steamer, maybe.

I'll leave toward 1st December--but I'll telegraph you.
Love to all.

His lecture tour continued from October until December, a period of
picturesque incident, the story of which has been recorded elsewhere.
--[See Mark Twain: A Biography, by the same author]--It paid him well;
he could go home now, without shame. Indeed, from his next letter, full
of the boyish elation which always to his last years was the complement
of his success, we gather that he is going home with special honors--
introductions from ministers and the like to distinguished personages of
the East.

To Mrs. Jane Clemens and family, in St. Louis:

SAN F., Dec. 4, 1866.
MY DEAR FOLKS,--I have written to Annie and Sammy and Katie some time
ago--also, to the balance of you.

I called on Rev. Dr. Wadsworth last night with the City College man,
but he wasn't at home. I was sorry, because I wanted to make his
acquaintance. I am thick as thieves with the Rev. Stebbings, and I am
laying for the Rev. Scudder and the Rev. Dr. Stone. I am running on
preachers, now, altogether. I find them gay. Stebbings is a regular
brick. I am taking letters of introduction to Henry Ward Beecher, Rev.
Dr. Tyng, and other eminent parsons in the east. Whenever anybody offers
me a letter to a preacher, now I snaffle it on the spot. I shall make
Rev. Dr. Bellows trot out the fast nags of the cloth for me when I get to
New York. Bellows is an able, upright and eloquent man--a man of
imperial intellect and matchless power--he is Christian in the truest
sense of the term and is unquestionably a brick....

Gen. Drum has arrived in Philadelphia and established his head-quarters
there, as Adjutant Genl. to Maj. Gen. Meade. Col. Leonard has received a
letter from him in which he offers me a complimentary benefit if I will
come there. I am much obliged, really, but I am afraid I shan't lecture
much in the States.

The China Mail Steamer is getting ready and everybody says I am throwing
away a fortune in not going in her. I firmly believe it myself.

I sail for the States in the Opposition steamer of the 5th inst.,
positively and without reserve. My room is already secured for me, and
is the choicest in the ship. I know all the officers.

Yrs. Affy

We get no hint of his plans, and perhaps he had none. If his
purpose was to lecture in the East, he was in no hurry to begin.
Arriving in New York, after an adventurous voyage, he met a number
of old Californians--men who believed in him--and urged him to
lecture. He also received offers of newspaper engagements, and from
Charles Henry Webb, who had published the Californian, which Bret
Harte had edited, came the proposal to collect his published
sketches, including the jumping Frog story, in book form. Webb
himself was in New York, and offered the sketches to several
publishers, including Canton, who had once refused the Frog story by
omitting it from Artemus Ward's book. It seems curious that Canton
should make a second mistake and refuse it again, but publishers
were wary in those days, and even the newspaper success of the Frog
story did not tempt him to venture it as the title tale of a book.
Webb finally declared he would publish the book himself, and
Clemens, after a few weeks of New York, joined his mother and family
in St. Louis and gave himself up to a considerable period of
visiting, lecturing meantime in both Hannibal and Keokuk.

Fate had great matters in preparation for him. The Quaker City
Mediterranean excursion, the first great ocean picnic, was announced
that spring, and Mark Twain realized that it offered a possible
opportunity for him to see something of the world. He wrote at once
to the proprietors of the Alta-California and proposed that they
send him as their correspondent. To his delight his proposition was
accepted, the Alta agreeing to the twelve hundred dollars passage
money, and twenty dollars each for letters.

The Quaker City was not to sail until the 8th of June, but the Alta
wished some preliminary letters from New York. Furthermore, Webb
had the Frog book in press, and would issue it May 1st. Clemens,
therefore, returned to New York in April, and now once more being
urged by the Californians to lecture, he did not refuse. Frank
Fuller, formerly Governor of Utah, took the matter in hand and
engaged Cooper Union for the venture. He timed it for May 6th,
which would be a few days after the appearance of Webb's book.
Clemens was even more frightened at the prospect of this lecture
than he had been in San Francisco, and with more reason, for in New
York his friends were not many, and competition for public favor was
very great. There are two letters written May 1st, one to his
people, and one to Bret Harte, in San Francisco; that give us the

Book of the day: