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Mark Twain’s 1869 book about the first pleasure cruise from America to Europe is a “trip” indeed, and gave modern definition to the genre of the American tourist abroad, as in this passage: “We examined modern and ancient statuary with a critical eye in Florence, Rome, or anywhere we found it, and praised it if we saw fit, and if we didn’t we said we preferred the wooden Indians in front of the cigar stores of America.” I enjoyed running across the following in the Writer’s Almanac today, reminding me of one of my favorite reads.
“It was on this day in 1867 that Mark Twain set off on a tour of Europe and the Middle East, a trip that gave him the material for his first major book, The Innocents Abroad. He traveled with a large group of American tourists, on a steam-driven side-wheeler called the Quaker City. It was the first transatlantic cruise on a steamship.
“Twain was just starting out as a writer at the time. He was living in New York, working as the travel correspondent for the San Francisco newspaper the Alta California. He convinced the editors to pay for his cruise, and in exchange he would write 50 letters from the cruise ship to be published in the paper. He had just started using the name Mark Twain a few years before, and he was still trying to build his reputation. His first book, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and Other Sketches (1867), hadn’t sold very well, and he thought a travel book would be a good way to make a name for himself.
“When Twain got back from the cruise, his publisher gave him six months to write a 600-page book. He wrote most of it in Washington, D.C., in a tiny room full of dirty clothes, cigar ashes, and manuscript pages. He used a lot of the material from the letters he wrote during the trip, but he made several changes to make it more appealing to an eastern audience. He took out some of the cruder jokes and the racier passages, such as a description of nude bathers at Odessa. He thought easterners were more likely to be offended then westerners, and he wanted to reach as large an audience as possible. He wrote about 200,000 words in two months, or about 3,500 words per day, and finished just before his publisher’s deadline.
“In Florence, he wrote: “It is popular to admire the Arno. It is a great historical creek with four feet in the channel and some scows floating around. It would be a very plausible river if they would pump some water into it. They all call it a river, and they honestly think it is a river, do these dark and bloody Florentines. They even help out the delusion by building bridges over it. I do not see why they are too good to wade.”
“The book was published by the American Publishing Company. The Innocents Abroad sold more than 125,000 copies in 10 years, and it established Twain’s reputation.”