HOLY LAND PLEASURE EXCURSION
Steamer: Quaker City.
Captain C. C. Duncan.
Left New York at 2 P.m., June 8, 1867.
Rough weather--anchored within the harbor to lay all night.
That first note recorded an event momentous in Mark Twain's career--an
event of supreme importance; if we concede that any link in a chain
regardless of size is of more importance than any other link.
Undoubtedly it remains the most conspicuous event, as the world views it
now, in retrospect.
The note further heads a new chapter of history in sea-voyaging. No such
thing as the sailing of an ocean steamship with a pleasure-party on a
long transatlantic cruise had ever occurred before. A similar project
had been undertaken the previous year, but owing to a cholera scare in
the East it had been abandoned. Now the dream had become a fact--a
stupendous fact when we consider it. Such an important beginning as that
now would in all likelihood furnish the chief news story of the day.
But they had different ideas of news in those days. There were no
headlines announcing the departure of the Quaker City--only the barest
mention of the ship's sailing, though a prominent position was given to
an account of a senatorial excursion-party which set out that same
morning over the Union Pacific Railway, then under construction. Every
name in that political party was set dawn, and not one of them except
General Hancock will ever be heard of again. The New York Times,
however, had some one on its editorial staff who thought it worth while
to comment a little on the history-making Quaker City excursion. The
writer was pleasantly complimentary to officers and passengers. He
referred to Moses S. Beach, of the Sun, who was taking with him type and
press, whereby he would "skilfully utilize the brains of the company for
their mutual edification." Mr. Beecher and General Sherman would find
talent enough aboard to make the hours go pleasantly (evidently the
writer had not interested himself sufficiently to know that these
gentlemen were not along), and the paragraph closed by prophesying other
such excursions, and wishing the travelers "good speed, a happy voyage,
and a safe return."
That was handsome, especially for those days; only now, some fine day,
when an airship shall start with a band of happy argonauts to land beyond
the sunrise for the first time in history, we shall feature it and
emblazon it with pictures in the Sunday papers, and weeklies, and in the
magazines.--[The Quaker City idea was so unheard-of that in some of the
foreign ports visited, the officials could not believe that the vessel
was simply a pleasure-craft, and were suspicious of some dark, ulterior
That Henry Ward Beecher and General Sherman had concluded not to go was a
heavy disappointment at first; but it proved only a temporary disaster.
The inevitable amalgamation of all ship companies took place. The sixty-
seven travelers fell into congenial groups, or they mingled and devised
amusements, and gossiped and became a big family, as happy and as free
from contention as families of that size are likely to be.
The Quaker City was a good enough ship and sizable for her time. She was
registered eighteen hundred tons--about one-tenth the size of
Mediterranean excursion-steamers today--and when conditions were
favorable she could make ten knots an hour under steam--or, at least, she
could do it with the help of her auxiliary sails. Altogether she was a
cozy, satisfactory ship, and they were a fortunate company who had her
all to themselves and went out on her on that long-ago ocean gipsying.
She has grown since then, even to the proportions of the Mayflower. It
was necessary for her to grow to hold all of those who in later times
claimed to have sailed in her on that voyage with Mark Twain.--[The
Quaker City passenger list will be found under Appendix F, at the end of
They were not all ministers and deacons aboard the Quaker City. Clemens
found other congenial spirits be sides his room-mate Dan Slote--among
them the ship's surgeon, Dr. A. Reeve Jackson (the guide-destroying
"Doctor" of The Innocents); Jack Van Nostrand, of New Jersey ("Jack");
Julius Moulton, of St. Louis ("Moult"), and other care-free fellows, the
smoking-room crowd which is likely to make comradeship its chief
watchword. There were companionable people in the cabin crowd also--
fine, intelligent men and women, especially one of the latter, a middle-
aged, intellectual, motherly soul--Mrs. A. W. Fairbanks, of Cleveland,
Ohio. Mrs. Fairbanks--herself a newspaper correspondent for her
husband's paper, the Cleveland Herald had a large influence on the
character and general tone of those Quaker City letters which established
Mark Twain's larger fame. She was an able writer herself; her judgment
was thoughtful, refined, unbiased--altogether of a superior sort. She
understood Samuel Clemens, counseled him, encouraged him to read his
letters aloud to her, became in reality "Mother Fairbanks," as they
termed her, to him and to others of that ship who needed her kindly
In one of his home letters, later, he said of her:
She was the most refined, intelligent, cultivated lady in the ship,
and altogether the kindest and best. She sewed my buttons on, kept
my clothing in presentable trim, fed me on Egyptian jam (when I
behaved), lectured me awfully on the quarter-deck on moonlit
promenading evenings, and cured me of several bad habits. I am
under lasting obligations to her. She looks young because she is so
good, but she has a grown son and daughter at home.
In one of the early letters which Mrs. Fairbanks wrote to her paper she
is scarcely less complimentary to him, even if in a different way.
We have D.D.'s and M.D.'s--we have men of wisdom and men of wit.
There is one table from which is sure to come a peal of laughter,
and all eyes are turned toward Mark Twain, whose face is, perfectly
mirth-provoking. Sitting lazily at the table, scarcely genteel in
his appearance, there is something, I know not what, that interests
and attracts. I saw to-day at dinner venerable divines and sage-
looking men convulsed with laughter at his drolleries and quaint,
It requires only a few days on shipboard for acquaintances to form, and
presently a little afternoon group was gathering to hear Mark Twain read
his letters. Mrs. Fairbanks was there, of course, also Mr. and Mrs. S.
L. Severance, likewise of Cleveland, and Moses S. Beach, of the Sun, with
his daughter Emma, a girl of seventeen. Dan Slote was likely to be
there, too, and Jack, and the Doctor, and Charles J. Langdon, of Elmira,
New York, a boy of eighteen, who had conceived a deep admiration for the
brilliant writer. They were fortunate ones who first gathered to hear
those daring, wonderful letters.
But the benefit was a mutual one. He furnished a priceless entertainment,
and he derived something equally priceless in return--the test of
immediate audience and the boon of criticism. Mrs. Fairbanks especially
was frankly sincere. Mr. Severance wrote afterward:
One afternoon I saw him tearing up a bunch of the soft, white paper-
copy paper, I guess the newspapers call it-on which he had written
something, and throwing the fragments into the Mediterranean. I
inquired of him why he cast away the fruits of his labors in that
"Well," he drawled, "Mrs. Fairbanks thinks it oughtn't to be printed,
and, like as not, she is right."
And Emma Beach (Mrs. Abbott Thayer) remembers hearing him say:
"Well, Mrs. Fairbanks has just destroyed another four hours' work for
Sometimes he played chess with Emma Beach, who thought him a great hero
because, once when a crowd of men were tormenting a young lad, a
passenger, Mark Twain took the boy's part and made them desist.
"I am sure I was right, too," she declares; "heroism came natural to
Mr. Severance recalls another incident which, as he says, was trivial
enough, but not easy to forget:
We were having a little celebration over the birthday anniversary of Mrs.
Duncan, wife of our captain. Mark Twain got up and made a little speech,
in which he said Mrs. Duncan was really older than Methuselah because she
knew a lot of things that Methuselah never heard of. Then he mentioned a
number of more or less modern inventions, and wound up by saying, "What
did Methuselah know about a barbed-wire fence?"
Except Following the Equator, The Innocents Abroad comes nearer to being
history than any other of Mark Twain's travel-books. The notes for it
were made on the spot, and there was plenty of fact, plenty of fresh, new
experience, plenty of incident to set down. His idea of descriptive
travel in those days was to tell the story as it happened; also, perhaps,
he had not then acquired the courage of his inventions. We may believe
that the adventures with Jack, Dan, and the Doctor are elaborated here
and there; but even those happened substantially as recorded. There is
little to add, then, to the story of that halcyon trip, and not much to
The old note-books give a light here and there that is interesting. It
is curious to be looking through them now, trying to realize that these
penciled memoranda were the fresh, first impressions that would presently
grow into the world's most delightful book of travel; that they were set
down in the very midst of that care-free little company that frolicked
through Italy, climbed wearily the arid Syrian hills. They are all dead
now; but to us they are as alive and young to-day as when they followed
the footprints of the Son of Man through Palestine, and stood at last
before the Sphinx, impressed and awed by its "five thousand slow-
Some of the items consist of no more than a few terse, suggestive words--
serious, humorous, sometimes profane. Others are statistical,
descriptive, elaborated. Also there are drawings--"not copied," he marks
them, with a pride not always justified by the result. The earlier notes
are mainly comments on the "pilgrims," the freak pilgrims: "the Frenchy-
looking woman who owns a dog and keeps up an interminable biography of
him to the passengers"; the "long-legged, simple, wide-mouthed, horse-
laughing young fellow who once made a sea voyage to Fortress Monroe, and
quotes eternally from his experiences"; also, there is reference to
another young man, "good, accommodating, pleasant but fearfully green."
This young person would become the "Interrogation Point," in due time,
and have his picture on page 71 (old edition), while opposite him, on
page 70, would appear the "oracle," identified as one Doctor Andrews, who
(the note-book says) had the habit of "smelling in guide-books for
knowledge and then trying to play it for old information that has been
festering in his brain." Sometimes there are abstract notes such as:
How lucky Adam was. He knew when he said a good thing that no one had
ever said it before.
Of the "character" notes, the most important and elaborated is that which
presents the "Poet Lariat." This is the entry, somewhat epitomized:
BLOODGOOD H. CUTTER
He is fifty years old, and small of his age. He dresses in
homespun, and is a simple-minded, honest, old-fashioned farmer, with
a strange proclivity for writing rhymes. He writes them on all
possible subjects, and gets them printed on slips of paper, with his
portrait at the head. These he will give to any man who comes
along, whether he has anything against him or not . . . .
"It must be a great happiness to you to sit down at the close of day
and put its events all down in rhymes and poetry, like Byron and
Shakespeare and those fellows."
"Oh yes, it is--it is--Why, many's the time I've had to get up in
the night when it comes on me:
Whether we're on the sea or the land
We've all got to go at the word of command--
"Hey! how's that?"
A curious character was Cutter--a Long Island farmer with the obsession
of rhyme. In his old age, in an interview, he said:
"Mark was generally writing and he was glum. He would write what we were
doing, and I would write poetry, and Mark would say:
"'For Heaven's sake, Cutter, keep your poems to yourself.'
"Yes, Mark was pretty glum, and he was generally writing."
Poor old Poet Lariat--dead now with so many others of that happy crew.
We may believe that Mark learned to be "glum" when he saw the Lariat
approaching with his sheaf of rhymes. We may believe, too, that he was
"generally writing." He contributed fifty-three letters to the Alta
during that five months and six to the Tribune. They would average about
two columns nonpareil each, which is to say four thousand words, or
something like two hundred and fifty thousand words in all. To turn out
an average of fifteen hundred words a day, with continuous sight-seeing
besides, one must be generally writing during any odd intervals; those
who are wont to regard Mark Twain as lazy may consider these statistics.
That he detested manual labor is true enough, but at the work for which
he was fitted and intended it may be set down here upon authority (and
despite his own frequent assertions to the contrary) that to his last
year he was the most industrious of men.