October 22, 2017
Twain Guilty of Innocents Abroad
On this day in 1869 Mark Twain's The Innocents Abroad was published. This was his second book -- after The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches in 1865 -- and the most popular one in his lifetime. It was a distillation of the newspaper articles Twain had written during his trip to Europe and the Holy Land in 1867. Though promoted as "the Most Unique and Spicy Volume in Existence" by the men who knocked on doors for Twain's subscription-only publisher, Twain said he regarded his remix as God regarded the world: "The fact is, there is a trifle too much water in both." Nonetheless, Twain springboarded to fame on the lecture circuit, where for "$100 a pop" he would add as much spice as he dared to the talk he had "smouched" from the book he had distilled from the articles:
In conclusion I will observe that even galloping as we did about the world, we learned something. The lesson of the Excursion was a good one. It taught us that foreign countries are excellent to travel in, but that the best country to live in is America, after all. We found no soap in the hotels of Europe, & they charged us for candles we never burned. We saw no ladies anywhere that were as beautiful as our own ladies here at home & especially in this audience. We saw none anywhere that dressed with such excellent taste as do our ladies at home here. I am not a married man, but -- but -- I would like to be. I only mention it in the most casual way, though, & -- do not mean anything -- anything personal by it. We saw no government on the other side like our own -- not just like our own. The Sultan's was a little like it. One of his great officers came into office without a cent, & went out in a few years & built himself a palace worth 3 million. It brought tears to my eyes in that far foreign land -- it was so like home. . . .
The reference to marriage was something of an in-joke: on the original trip Twain had his first glimpse of Olivia Langdon "in the form of an ivory miniature in her brother Charley's stateroom," and in the first part of 1870 they were married. The reference to the Sultan's palace, on the other hand, was not a joke: by 1871 Twain would be renting in the exclusive Hartford neighborhood of Nook Farm, and by 1874 he would be building there his many-gabled, over-gilded mansion. This is described by biographer Justin Kaplan (Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain, National Book Award, 1983) as being "part steamboat, part medieval stronghold, part cuckoo clock"; Twain thought it far superior to the "ugly, tasteless and repulsive" homes he had seen in Europe.