The most famous and beloved travel writer America ever produced once confessed to a reporter that he didn’t even like travelling that much.

He was born Samuel Clemens in Florida, Missouri 175 years ago,  but when, as Mark Twain, he landed by steamer ship or at rail stations at various ports and crossings around the world, he was known simply as The American.

In the late 19th century, Twain travelled to destinations most of his readers could never dream of visiting. For him, travel and discovering new cultures and customs was, as he once famously wrote, “fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”

His motives for travelling were initially financial ones; he left his beloved home in Hartford, Connecticut in order to make money after falling into debt over failed ventures in printing machines.
Twain’s travelogues were eagerly read first by Americans, but his audience became international, with readers from around the world becoming his travel companions and following in his footsteps.
On the 100th anniversary of his death, this November 30th, the Toronto Star’s travel section will revisit some of the places Twain travelled to on his journeys around the world as the tramp abroad followed the equator to destinations near and far.


One of Twain’s first assignments was to head to what was then known as the Sandwich Islands for the Sacramento Daily Union in 1866.

“It has been six weeks since I touched a pen. In explanation and excuse I offer the fact that I spent that time (with the exception of one week) on the island of Maui. I only got back yesterday. I never spent so pleasant a month before, or bade any place good-bye so regretfully. I doubt if there is a mean person there, from the homeliest man on the island (Lewers) down to the oldest (Tallant). I went to Maui to stay a week and remained five. I had a jolly time. I would not have fooled away any of it writing letters under any consideration whatever. It will be five or six weeks before I write again. I have not once thought of business, or care or human toil or trouble or sorrow or weariness, and the memory of it will remain with me always.”

– The Sacramento Daily Union, 1866


During a visit to the Castle of Heidelberg, Twain took a boat ride on the nearby Neckar River which inspired him to write a chapter in Huckleberry Finn.

“Behind the Castle is a great dome-shaped hill, forest-clad and beyond that a nobler and loftier one. The Castle looks down upon the compact brown-roofed town, and from the town two picturesque old bridges span the river. Now the view broadens, through the gateway of the sentinel headlands you gaze out over the wide Rhine plain, which stretches away softly and richly tinted, grows gradually and dreamily indistinct and finally melts imperceptibly into the remote horizon. I have never enjoyed a view which had such a serene and satisfying charm about it as this one gives.”

In Lucerne, Twain fell ill with what he called a “disease” that led him to want to buy 150 wood carved cuckoo clocks. He succumbed,  purchasing three. While there, he went to see the Lion of Lucerne monument that had been carved to commemorate the Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 when revolutionaries stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris during the French Revolution.

“The Lion of Lucerne is the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world. The Lion lies in his lair in the perpendicular face of a low cliff—for he is carved from the living rock of the cliff. His size is colossal, his attitude is noble. His head is bowed, the broken spear is sticking in his shoulder, his protecting paw rests upon the lilies of Frances. Vines hang down the cliff and wave in the wind and a clear stream trickles form above and empties into a pond at the base, and in the smooth surface of the pond the lion is mirrored among the water-lilies. …The Lion of Lucerne would be impressive anywhere but nowhere so impressive as where he is.”

– The Tramp Abroad Volume 1 and Volume 4


Twain had wanted to write a travel book about his time in England and did end up writing two novels set in England: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and the Prince and the Pauper. But as he explained in a dispatch to the Hartford Courant, he couldn’t satirize England in the way he wanted.

“I have spent a great deal of time in England. I made a world of notes but it was no use. I couldn’t get any fun out of England. It is too grave a country and its gravity soaks into the stranger and makes him as serious as everyone else. When I was there I couldn’t seem to think of anything but deep problems of government, taxes, free trade, finance.  One is bound to respect England, she is one of the three great republics of the world but she is not good text for hilarious literature. No, there wasn’t anything to satirize–what I mean is, you couldn’t satirize any given thing in England in any but a halfhearted way, because your conscience told you to look nearer home and you would find that very thing at your own door. A man with a humpbacked uncle mustn’t make fun of another man’s cross-eyed aunt.”

– Hartford Courant, 1879


Before and after the American Civil War, Twain was a steamboat pilot, one of his many occupations throughout his lifetime. Life on the Mississippi was part memoir based on his experiences when he was a young man training on the steamboats and the second half was about Twain revisiting the Mississippi years later.

“Mississippi steam boating was born about 1812, at the end of thirty years, it had grown to mighty proportions; and in less than thirty more, it was dead! A strangely short life for so majestic a creature…it killed the old-fashioned keep-boating, by reducing the freight-trip to New Orleans to less than a week. The railroads have killed the steamboat passenger traffic by doing in two or three days what the steamboats consumed a week in doing.”

– Life on the Mississippi, 1883


In 1899, Twain, his wife and his 19-year-old daughter Jean, who were all in ill health, left London for Sweden to be treated by a noted osteopath, Heinrich Kellgren. Twain, then 64 years old, had had a long history of physical ailments including a severe long lasting common cold. But despite his health problems, he was besotted with the scenery, writing that happiness is a Swedish sunset.

“I’ve no business in here—I ought to be outside. I shall never see another sunset to begin with it this side of heaven. This is the place to be. I have seen about 60 sunsets here; and a good 40 of them were away and beyond anything I had ever imagined before for dainty and exquisite and marvellous beauty and infinite charm and variety. America? Italy? The tropics? They have no notion of what a sunset ought to be. And this one–this unspeakable wonder. It discounts all the rest. It brings the tears, it is so unutterably beautiful.”

– Letter to a friend, 1899


In 1895, Twain began a lecturing trip around the world which began in Paris. He and his family sailed to America arriving on the west coast in midsummer. In August he spoke at the Vancouver Opera House to a standing-room-only crowd and then met with reporters. Suffering from a bad cold, he spent a few days in his room reading books and writing letters before travelling to Victoria where he was to set sail to Sydney Australia.

“We moved westward about mid-afternoon over a rippled and summer sea; an enticing sea, a clean and cool sea, and apparently a welcome sea to all on board; it certainly was to the distressful dustings and smokings and swelterings of the past weeks. The voyage would furnish a three-weeks holiday, with hardly a break in it. We had the whole Pacific Ocean in front of us, with nothing to do but do nothing and be comfortable. The city of Victoria was twinkling dim in the deep heart of her smoke-cloud, and getting ready to vanish and now we closed the field-glasses and sat down on our steamer chairs contented and at peace.”

– Following the Equator, 1895


At the age of 60, looking so frail that local papers warned him to leave before the time of the great heat, Twain travelled to India. Twain’s biographer Albert Bigelow Paine noted that Twain, who travelled up and down the length of India, stayed at the home of an Indian prince and loved the country so much that in his notebook, he had written in capital letters INDIA THE MARVELOUS.

“This 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, except five hundred….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. Nothing seems to have been forgotten, nothing overlooked.”

– Following the Equator, 1897


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