Their Travel Changed Your World – Mark Twain

This is the third in a series of articles about the transformative power of traveling.  No one really knows the impact a trip is going to have on their life.  It can be a restorative escape, educational, or thought provoking – often all at the same time.  Sometimes the experiences a person has while traveling, can inspire them to not only change who they are, but also, to change the world.  You can find the first two articles here, and here.

 

Mark Twain is perhaps the greatest writer the United States has ever produced.  His novels, short stories, and humor are quintessentially American.  Their characters, and their struggles and their flaws, and their spirit reflect not only who we were in the late 1800s, but also who we are today.  It was travel that made Twain the writer and the person that he became, and it was travel that shaped his interpretation of the American character.

Twain was born in Missouri, and his childhood must have been a difficult one.  Most of his seven siblings died before reaching adulthood and his father died when Twain was only eleven.  Twain went to work as a printer’s assistant, learning the trade before going to work for a series of newspapers as a printer.  He was restless, though, and in his late teens he slowly began to dabble at writing.  He was successful at having a few very brief writings published in the papers, but nothing much was thought of the endevour.

Twain hit the road and traveled along the Mississippi River on a steamboat, and was inspired to take up a new profession, that of steamboat captain.  He worked up and down the river until the outbreak of the Civil War.  With the start of the war, he moved west, to Nevada, and to make his pile as a silver miner.  He failed miserably, and then moved on to California.  It was in Nevada, and then in California that Twain adopted his pen name (he was born Samuel Clemens), and first had success as a writer.  His early works were humorous tall tales, inspired by his upbringing in Missouri, most notably “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” Which made him famous.

He was working more and more as a journalist by this period, and was sent to the Hawaiian Islands to write a series of travelogues.  These, too, proved to be popular, and allowed him to create a series of lectures, in which he traveled around the country recounting stories from the islands and his early life in the American Midwest. This further raised the public’s awareness of him, and he was able to parlay that into trip to Europe and the Middle East, paid for by a newspaper.  The paper, of course, got the exclusive rights to the travelogues he generated.  In 1869, Twain published The Innocents Abroad, a humorous and slightly fictionalized account of his trip.

At this point, Twain was a well known humorist, and was living comfortably off of the newspaper columns and speaking tours.  This, though, was when he took the next, and most significant step in his writing.  Twain again began to look back at his early life.  First at his time as a steamboat captain in Life on the Mississippi, and following it immediately with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  Both proved to be successful, but the latter, was a best seller.  Tom Sawyer is both a book about America’s past, and an idealized America that never was.  A few short years later, he published Huckleberry Finn, the first true masterpiece of American literature.  This was a simultaneously a continuation of the world of Tom Sawyer, and yet it was condemnation of America and her views on race and social class.  Had Twain stayed in Missouri, a slave state prior to the war, it his highly unlikely that Finn would have ever been written.  It was the experiences that he had when he traveled that helped to shape his views on the nation and its people.

By the late 1800s Twain was a very wealthy man, but he was a very poor investor.   He lost his fortune, and returned to traveling to pull himself out of debt and to reestablish his accounts.  He struck out on a world tour, lecturing about his life, and to create more of the humorous travelogues for newspapers that were willing  to pay him to publish his writings.  It was during this stage of his life, while on his tour, that the “Twain” image became impossible to separate from the man.  The white suits and the shock of white hair and mustache, cigar in hand, became as much of the legend of Mark Twain as did the characters he created.  The world came to know Mark Twain as a character in his own right – a character that lives on to this day.

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  1. Their Travel Changed Your World – Buddha | Toland Travels - May 14, 2014

    […] This is the third in a series of articles about the transformative power of traveling.  No one really knows the impact a trip is going to have on their life.  It can be a restorative escape, educational, or thought provoking – often all at the same time.  Sometimes the experiences a person has while traveling, can inspire them to not only change who they are, but also, to change the world.  Other entries in this series are Julia Child, Mahatma Gandhi, and Mark Twain. […]

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