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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol II, Part 2: 1886 - 1900|
CXCII. "Following the Equater"
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|Mark Twain himself has written with great fulness the story of that
traveling--setting down what happened, and mainly as it happened, with
all the wonderful description, charm, and color of which he was so great
a master. We need do little more than summarize then--adding a touch
here and there, perhaps, from another point of view.
They had expected to stop at the Sandwich Islands, but when they arrived
in the roadstead of Honolulu, word came that cholera had broken out and
many were dying daily. They could not land. It was a double
disappointment; not only were the lectures lost, but Clemens had long
looked forward to revisiting the islands he had so loved in the days of
his youth. There was nothing for them to do but to sit on the decks in
the shade of the awnings and look at the distant shore. In his book he
We lay in luminous blue water; shoreward the water was green-green
and brilliant; at the shore itself it broke in a long, white ruffle,
and with no crash, no sound that we could hear. The town was buried
under a mat of foliage that looked like a cushion of moss. The
silky mountains were clothed in soft, rich splendors of melting
color, and some of the cliffs were veiled in slanting mists. I
recognized it all. It was just as I had seen it long before, with
nothing of its beauty lost, nothing of its charm wanting.
In his note-book he wrote: "If I might, I would go ashore and never
This was the 31 st of August. Two days later they were off again,
sailing over the serene Pacific, bearing to the southwest for Australia.
They crossed the equator, which he says was wisely put where it is,
because if it had been run through Europe all the kings would have tried
to grab it. They crossed it September 6th, and he notes that Clara
kodaked it. A day or two later the north star disappeared behind them
and the constellation of the Cross came into view above the southern
horizon. Then presently they were among the islands of the southern
Pacific, and landed for a little time on one of the Fiji group. They had
twenty-four days of halcyon voyaging between Vancouver and Sydney with
only one rough day. A ship's passengers get closely acquainted on a trip
of that length and character. They mingle in all sorts of diversions to
while away the time; and at the end have become like friends of many
On the night of September 15th-a night so dark that from the ship's deck
one could not see the water--schools of porpoises surrounded the ship,
setting the water alive with phosphorescent splendors: "Like glorified
serpents thirty to fifty feet long. Every curve of the tapering long
body perfect. The whole snake dazzlingly illumined. It was a weird
sight to see this sparkling ghost come suddenly flashing along out of the
solid gloom and stream past like a meteor."
They were in Sydney next morning, September 16, 1895, and landed in a
pouring rain, the breaking up of a fierce drought. Clemens announced
that he had brought Australia good-fortune, and should expect something
Mr. Smythe was ready for them and there was no time lost in getting to
work. All Australia was ready for them, in fact, and nowhere in their
own country were they more lavishly and royally received than in that
faraway Pacific continent. Crowded houses, ovations, and gorgeous
entertainment--public and private--were the fashion, and a little more
than two weeks after arrival Clemens was able to send back another two
thousand dollars to apply on his debts. But he had hard luck, too, for
another carbuncle developed at Melbourne and kept him laid up for nearly
a week. When he was able to go before an audience again he said:
"The doctor says I am on the verge of being a sick man. Well, that may
be true enough while I am lying abed all day trying to persuade his
cantankerous, rebellious medicines to agree with each other; but when I
come out at night and get a welcome like this I feel as young and healthy
as anybody, and as to being on the verge of being a sick man I don't take
any stock in that. I have been on the verge of being an angel all my
life, but it's never happened yet."
In his book Clemens has told us his joy in Australia, his interest in the
perishing native tribes, in the wonderfully governed cities, in the gold-
mines, and in the advanced industries. The climate he thought superb;
"a darling climate," he says in a note-book entry.
Perhaps one ought to give a little idea of the character of his
entertainment. His readings were mainly from his earlier books,
'Roughing It' and 'Innocents Abroad'. The story of the dead man which,
as a boy, he had discovered in his father's office was one that he often
told, and the "Mexican Plug" and his "Meeting with Artemus Ward" and the
story of Jim Blaine's old ram; now and again he gave chapters from 'Huck
Finn' and 'Tom Sawyer'. He was likely to finish with that old fireside
tale of his early childhood, the "Golden Arm." But he sometimes told the
watermelon story, written for Mrs. Rogers, or gave extracts from Adam's
Diary, varying his program a good deal as he went along, and changing it
entirely where he appeared twice in one city.
Mrs. Clemens and Clara, as often as they had heard him, generally went
when the hour of entertainment came: They enjoyed seeing his triumph with
the different audiences, watching the effect of his subtle art.
One story, the "Golden Arm," had in it a pause, an effective, delicate
pause which must be timed to the fraction of a second in order to realize
its full value. Somewhere before we have stated that no one better than
Mark Twain knew the value of a pause. Mrs. Clemens and Clara were
willing to go night after night and hear that tale time and again, for
its effect on each new audience.
From Australia to New Zealand--where Clemens had his third persistent
carbuncle,--[In Following the Equator the author says: "The dictionary
says a carbuncle is a kind of jewel. Humor is out of place in a
dictionary."]--and again lost time in consequence. It was while he was
in bed with this distressing ailment that he wrote Twichell:
I think it was a good stroke of luck that knocked me on my back here
at Napier instead of in some hotel in the center of a noisy city.
Here we have the smooth & placidly complaining sea at our door, with
nothing between us & it but 20 yards of shingle--& hardly a
suggestion of life in that space to mar it or to make a noise. Away
down here fifty-five degrees south of the equator this sea seems to
murmur in an unfamiliar tongue--a foreign tongue--a tongue bred
among the ice-fields of the antarctic--a murmur with a note of
melancholy in it proper to the vast unvisited solitudes it has come
from. It was very delicious and solacing to wake in the night &
find it still pulsing there. I wish you were here--land, but it
would be fine!
Mrs. Clemens and himself both had birthdays in New Zealand; Clemens
turned sixty, and his wife passed the half-century mark.
"I do not like it one single bit," she wrote to her sister. "Fifty years
old-think of it; that seems very far on."
And Clemens wrote:
Day before yesterday was Livy's birthday (underworld time) &
tomorrow will be mine. I shall be 60--no thanks for it!
From New Zealand back to Australia, and then with the new year away to
Ceylon. Here they were in the Orient at last, the land of color,
enchantment, and gentle races. Clemens was ill with a heavy cold when
they arrived; and in fact, at no time during this long journeying was his
health as good as that of his companions. The papers usually spoke of
him as looking frail, and he was continually warned that he must not
remain in India until the time of the great heat. He was so determined
to work, however, and working was so profitable, that he seldom spared
He traveled up and down and back and forth the length and breadth of
India--from Bombay to Allahabad, to Benares, to Calcutta and Darjeeling,
to Lahore, to Lucknow, to Delhi--old cities of romance--and to Jeypore--
through the heat and dust on poor, comfortless railways, fighting his
battle and enjoying it too, for he reveled in that amazing land--its
gorgeous, swarming life, the patience and gentleness of its servitude,
its splendid pageantry, the magic of its architecture, the maze and
mystery of its religions, the wonder of its ageless story.
One railway trip he enjoyed--a thirty-five-mile flight down the steep
mountain of Darjeeling in a little canopied hand-car. In his book he
That was the most enjoyable time I have spent in the earth. For
rousing, tingling, rapturous pleasure there is no holiday trip that
approaches the bird-flight down the Himalayas in a handcar. It has
no fault, no blemish, no lack, except that there are only thirty-
five miles of it, instead of five hundred.
Mark Twain found India all that Rudyard Kipling had painted it and more.
"INDIA THE MARVELOUS" he printed in his note-book in large capitals, as
an effort to picture his thought, and in his book he wrote:
So far as I am able to judge nothing has been left undone, either by
man or Nature, to make India the most extraordinary country that the
sun visits on his rounds. "Where every prospect pleases, and only
man is vile."
Marvelous India is, certainly; and he saw it all to the best advantage,
for government official and native grandee spared no effort to do honor
to his party--to make their visit something to be remembered for a
lifetime. It was all very gratifying, and most of it of extraordinary
interest. There are not many visitors who get to see the inner household
of a native prince of India, and the letter which Mark Twain wrote to
Kumar Shri Samatsinhji, a prince of the Palitana state, at Bombay, gives
us a notion of how his unostentatious, even if lavish, hospitality was
DEAR KUMAR SAHIB,--It would be hard for me to put into words how
much my family & I enjoyed our visit to your hospitable house. It
was our first glimpse of the home of an Eastern Prince, & the charm
of it, the grace & beauty & dignity of it realized to us the
pictures which we had long ago gathered from books of travel &
Oriental tales. We shall not forget that happy experience, nor your
kind courtesies to us, nor those of her Highness to my wife &
daughter. We shall keep always the portrait & the beautiful things
you gave us; & as long as we live a glance at them will bring your
house and its life & its sumptuous belongings & rich harmonies of
color instantly across the years & the oceans, & we shall see them
again, & how welcome they will be!
We make our salutation to your Highness & to all members of your
family--including, with affectionate regard, that littlest little
sprite of a Princess--& I beg to sign myself
S. L. CLEMENS.
BENARES, February 5, 1896.
They had been entertained in truly royal fashion by Prince Kumar, who,
after refreshments, had ordered in "bales of rich stuffs" in the true
Arabian Nights fashion, and commanded his servants to open them and allow
his guests to select for themselves.
With the possible exception of General Grant's long trip in '78 and '79
there has hardly been a more royal progress than Mark Twain's trip around
the world. Everywhere they were overwhelmed with honors and invitations,
and their gifts became so many that Mrs. Clemens wrote she did not see
how they were going to carry them all. In a sense, it was like the Grant
trip, for it was a tribute which the nations paid not only to a beloved
personality, but to the American character and people.
The story of that East Indian sojourn alone would fill a large book, and
Mark Twain, in his own way, has written that book, in the second volume
of Following the Equator, an informing, absorbing, and enchanting story
of Indian travel.
Clemens lectured everywhere to jammed houses, which were rather less
profitable than in Australia, because in India the houses were not built
for such audiences as he could command. He had to lecture three times in
Calcutta, and then many people were turned away. At one place, however,
his hall was large enough. This was in the great Hall of the Palace,
where durbars are held, at Bombay.
Altogether they were two months in India, and then about the middle of
March an English physician at Jeypore warned them to fly for Calcutta and
get out of the country immediately before the real heat set in.
They sailed toward the end of March, touched at Madras and again at
Ceylon, remaining a day or two at Colombo, and then away to sea again,
across the Indian Ocean on one of those long, peaceful, eventless, tropic
voyages, where at night one steeps on deck and in daytime wears the
whitest and lightest garments and cares to do little more than sit
drowsily in a steamer-chair and read and doze and dream.
From the note-book:
Here in the wastes of the Indian Ocean just under the equator the
sea is blue, the motion gentle, the sunshine brilliant, the broad
decks with their grouped companies of talking, reading, or game-
playing folk suggestive of a big summer hotel--but outside of the
ship is no life visible but the occasional flash of a flying-fish.
I would like the voyage, under these conditions, to continue
The Injian Ocean sits and smiles
So sof', so bright, so bloomin' blue,
There aren't a wave for miles an' miles
Excep' the jiggle of the screw.
How curiously unanecdotical the colonials and the ship-going English
are--I believe I haven't told an anecdote or heard one since I left
America, but Americans when grouped drop into anecdotes as soon as
they get a little acquainted.
Preserve your illusions. When they are gone you may still exist,
but not live.
Swore off from profanity early this morning--I was on deck in the
peaceful dawn, the calm of holy dawn. Went down, dressed, bathed,
put on white linen, shaved--a long, hot, troublesome job and no
profanity. Then started to breakfast. Remembered my tonic--first
time in 3 months without being told--poured it into measuring-glass,
held bottle in one hand, it in the other, the cork in my teeth--
reached up & got a tumbler--measuring-glass slipped out of my
fingers--caught it, poured out another dose, first setting the
tumbler on wash-stand--just got it poured, ship lurched, heard a
crash behind me--it was the tumbler, broken into millions of
fragments, but the bottom hunk whole. Picked it up to throw out of
the open port, threw out the measuring-glass instead--then I
released my voice. Mrs. Clemens behind me in the door.
"Don't reform any more. It is not an improvement."
This is a good time to read up on scientific matters and improve the
mind, for about us is the peace of the great deep. It invites to
dreams, to study, to reflection. Seventeen days ago this ship
sailed out of Calcutta, and ever since, barring a day or two in
Ceylon, there has been nothing in sight but the tranquil blue sea &
a cloudless blue sky. All down the Bay of Bengal it was so. It is
still so in the vast solitudes of the Indian Ocean--17 days of
heaven. In 11 more it will end. There will be one passenger who
will be sorry. One reads all day long in this delicious air. Today
I have been storing up knowledge from Sir John Lubbock about the
ant. The thing which has struck me most and most astonished me is
the ant's extraordinary powers of identification--memory of his
friend's person. I will quote something which he says about Formica
fusca. Formica fusca is not something to eat; it's the name of a
breed of ants.
He does quote at great length and he transferred most of it later to his
book. In another note he says:
In the past year have read Vicar of Wakefield and some of Jane
Austen--thoroughly artificial. Have begun Children of the Abbey.
It begins with this "Impromptu" from the sentimental heroine:
"Hail, sweet asylum of my infancy! Content and innocence reside
beneath your humble roof and charity unboastful of the good it
renders . . . . Here unmolested may I wait till the rude storm
of sorrow is overblown and my father's arms are again extended to
Has the ear-marks of preparation.
They were at the island of Mauritius by the middle of April, that curious
bit of land mainly known to the world in the romance of Paul and
Virginia, a story supposed by some in Mauritius to be "a part of the
Bible." They rested there for a fortnight and then set sail for South
Africa on the ship Arundel Castle, which he tells us is the finest boat
he has seen in those waters.
It was the end of the first week in May when they reached Durban and felt
that they were nearing home.
One more voyage and they would be in England, where they had planned for
Susy and Jean to join them.
Mrs. Clemens, eager for letters, writes of her disappointment in not
finding one from Susy. The reports from Quarry Farm had been cheerful,
and there had been small snap-shot photographs which were comforting, but
her mother heart could not be entirely satisfied that Susy did not send
letters. She had a vague fear that some trouble, some illness, had come
to Susy which made her loath to write. Susy was, in fact, far from well,
though no one, not even Susy herself, suspected how serious was her
Mrs. Clemens writes of her own hopefulness, but adds that her husband is
Mr. Clemens has not as much courage as I wish he had, but, poor old
darling, he has been pursued with colds and inabilities of various
sorts. Then he is so impressed with the fact that he is sixty years
old. Naturally I combat that thought all I can, trying to make him
rejoice that he is not seventy . . . .
He does not believe that any good thing will come, but that we must
all our lives live in poverty. He says he never wants to go back to
America. I cannot think that things are as black as he paints them,
and I trust that if I get him settled down for work in some quiet
English village he will get back much of his cheerfulness; in fact,
I believe he will because that is what he wants to do, and that is
the work that he loves: The platform he likes for the two hours that
he is on it, but all the rest of the time it grinds him, and he says
he is ashamed of what he is doing. Still, in spite of this sad
undercurrent, we are having a delightful trip. People are so nice,
and with people Mr. Clemens seems cheerful. Then the ocean trips
are a great rest to him.
Mrs. Clemens and Clara remained at the hotel in Durban while Clemens made
his platform trip to the South African cities. It was just at the time
when the Transvaal invasion had been put down--when the Jameson raid had
come to grief and John Hares Hammond, chief of the reformers, and fifty
or more supporters were lying in the jail at Pretoria under various
sentences, ranging from one to fifteen years, Hammond himself having
received the latter award. Mrs. Hammond was a fellow-Missourian; Clemens
had known her in America. He went with her now to see the prisoners, who
seemed to be having a pretty good time, expecting to be pardoned
presently; pretending to regard their confinement mainly as a joke.
Clemens, writing of it to Twichell, said:
A Boer guard was at my elbow all the time, but was courteous &
polite, only he barred the way in the compound (quadrangle or big
open court) & wouldn't let me cross a white mark that was on the
ground--the "deathline," one of the prisoners called it. Not in
earnest, though, I think. I found that I had met Hammond once when
he was a Yale senior & a guest of General Franklin's. I also found
that I had known Captain Mein intimately 32 years ago. One of the
English prisoners had heard me lecture in London 23 years ago....
These prisoners are strong men, prominent men, & I believe they are
all educated men. They are well off; some of them are wealthy.
They have a lot of books to read, they play games & smoke, & for a
while they will be able to bear up in their captivity; but not for
long, not for very long, I take it. I am told they have times of
deadly brooding and depression. I made them a speech--sitting down.
It just happened so. I don't prefer that attitude. Still, it has
one advantage--it is only a talk, it doesn't take the form of a
speech . . . . I advised them at considerable length to stay
where they were--they would get used to it & like it presently; if
they got out they would only get in again somewhere else, by the
look of their countenances; & I promised to go and see the President
& do what I could to get him to double their jail terms....
We had a very good sociable time till the permitted time was up &.
a little over & we outsiders had to go. I went again to-day, but
the Rev. Mr. Gray had just arrived, & the warden, a genial, elderly
Boer named Du Plessis, explained that his orders wouldn't allow him
to admit saint & sinner at the same time, particularly on a Sunday.
Du Plessis descended from the Huguenot fugitives, you see, of 200
years ago--but he hasn't any French left in him now--all Dutch.
Clemens did visit President Kruger a few days later, but not for the
purpose explained. John Hayes Hammond, in a speech not long ago (1911),
told how Mark Twain was interviewed by a reporter after he left the jail,
and when the reporter asked if the prisoners were badly treated Clemens
had replied that he didn't think so, adding:
"As a matter of fact, a great many of these gentlemen have fared far
worse in the hotels and mining-camps of the West."
Said Hammond in his speech: "The result of this was that the interview
was reported literally and a leader appeared in the next morning's issue
protesting against such lenience. The privations, already severe enough,
were considerably augmented by that remark, and it required some three or
four days' search on the part of some of our friends who were already
outside of jail to get hold of Mark Twain and have him go and explain to
Kruger that it was all a joke."
Clemens made as good a plea to "Oom Paul" as he could, and in some degree
may have been responsible for the improved treatment and the shortened
terms of the unlucky reformers.
They did not hurry away from South Africa. Clemens gave many readings
and paid a visit to the Kimberley mines. His note-book recalls how poor
Riley twenty-five years before had made his fatal journey.
It was the 14th of July, 1896, a year to a day since they left Elmira,
that they sailed by the steamer Norman for England, arriving at
Southampton the 31st. It was from Southampton that they had sailed for
America fourteen months before. They had completed the circuit of the