An inveterate lecturer, Twain’s tours became a necessity in 1895 because of his accumulated debts from failed investments. It was then that Twain sailed around the world on a lecture tour that took him across the U.S. to Canada, the Sandwich Islands, New Zealand, Australia, India and South Africa before completing the tour in England.
This whirlwind tour not only got him out of debt but it also resulted in his last travel book, Following the Equator. Pritner contends that this final trip around the world changed Twain.
"He became an anti-imperialist, speaking out against our taking the Philippines and against our adventure in Cuba. He publicly opposed King Leopold of Belgiumís treatment of the people of the Congo," Pritner says. "Sam Clemens went through some profound changes from his earlier derogatory remarks about Native Americans and other people of color to a sometimes outspoken advocate for American Negroes.
In conjunction with the performance, Pritner offers a forty-minute piece, as Twain: Mark Twain: Unlearning Racism.
Throughout most of his adult life, Samuel Clemens, our “Mark Twain, ” was a traveler and a travel writer. At 18 he left home for travels to St. Louis and New York; we have some of his letters home while he was working in those cities as a “printer’s devil.” His next major travel was on the Mississippi, first as an apprentice, then as a steamboat pilot, the career he described later in Life on the Mississippi.
But his career as a travel writer began, in a sense, when he went west to the Nevada Territory. Initially, Sam served as his brother Orion’s assistant; later Sam became a journalist in the capitol, Carson City, and eventually went on to California, where he was a journalist in Sacramento and San Francisco. In 1866 he convinced the Sacramento Union to sponsor his travel to the Sandwich Islands from which he was to write letters back to the paper; and it was in writing from the Sandwich Islands that his career as a travel writer began its amazing trajectory.
Throughout his stay on the islands, Twain wrote to Sacramento, often commenting humorously on the islands’ life and inhabitants, sometimes on the government and the Christian missionaries, sometimes touting the potential commercial opportunities of the islands. But, just before his scheduled return, survivors of a ship lost at sea came ashore in Honolulu. Twain, suffering from physical ailments, was carried by stretcher to meet and interview the survivors. Their story served as a kind of “exclusive” for Twain, whose reports were widely distributed to papers in the States.
Upon his return from the islands, Twain added a career: lecturer, speaking in California and Nevada to appreciative crowds. Now he was a traveler, a travel writer, and a travel talker.
From California, he sailed to the East Coast, where he continued his writing (to papers in the West) and his lecturing. From New York, Twain found an opportunity to sail on the Quaker City excursion to Europe and the Holy Land. His letters from the Quaker City created new awareness of him in the States, and when he returned he capitalized on it by writing his first travel book, The Innocents Abroad.
Biographers and critics credit him as a new kind of travel writer, one who saw the great sites of Europe through a fully American eye; most importantly, he avoided paying obligatory homage to sites that he thought deserved new, honest and humorous treatment.
His next travel book was Roughing It, his description of traveling to Nevada by stage coach, his life in the rough and ready capitol of Carson City, his experiments in silver mining and speculation, his emergence as a journalist, his adventures in the Sandwich Islands, his first efforts in California as a lecturer, and his sailing to New York.
Two major travel books came later in Twain’s life: A Tramp Abroad treats a long excursion in Europe, especially his adventures in Switzerland; and Following the Equator, the book that grew out of his lecture tour of 1895-96. Twain had sunk his family resources into a failed printing machine. Bankrupt, he undertook a lecture tour that took him from New York across the upper states to Vancouver, where he sailed to the Sandwich Islands, Australia, New Zealand, Ceylon, India, South Africa, and on to England.
Upon his return to the States, Twain was lionized by the American public for having repaid his debts. He produced Following the Equator while mourning the untimely death of his daughter Susy; but painful as the period of mourning was, Twain occasionally regains the wit and wry humor we associate with his earlier travel writing.