A Tramp Abroad, Following the Equator, and Other Travels
Roy Blount, Jr., Editor
The Library of America, 2010
May 25, 2010
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". . .published by The Library of America with a mission to preserve the most significant writings of American’s best. . ."
A century after his death, The Library of America has released, Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad, Following the Equator, and Other Travels, a comprehensive compilation of his foreign travel writings, notes and life chronology.
Twain, born in 1835, who was really Samuel Langhorne Clemens, is of course best known for Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. But he also spent several years traveling abroad and compiled an intelligent and whimsical account of people and places he encountered, an “arm-chair traveler’s” dream.
Twain points out the most of us, including himself, are unfamiliar with georgraphy and the history of foreign cultures. He points out, for example, that “only five people” know where Herzegovina is. In one of his short essays, Twain offers to bring the Shah of Persia to England. He jumps into a cab and orders the driver to take him to Belgium, but then asks, “where is Belgium?”
With a journalistic background and already an established writer, Twain embarks for Europe with his family in 1878. His accounts of his year-long stay are both biographical and fictional. He invents a traveling companion, Mr. Harris, his agent, and they decide to explore Europe primarily on foot. In great detail, Twain describes people in some extraordinary circumstances such as students dueling but also comments on the serious character of Germans. Most thrilling and enlightening are his and Mr. Harris’s mountain treks. In one absurd tale, while describing the awesomeness of the Gorner Glacier, the second largest in the world in the Swiss Alps, he decides Mr. Harris should float down in an umbrella. If he survives, the entire expedition can be saved from the treacherous descent, Twain surmises.
Two decades later, after his successful publication of A Tramp Abroad, Twain is in debt due to poor investments, stocks in particular. Determined to pay his friends back, he agrees to travel around the earth on a lecture tour. He would write and send articles for publications as well as work on the book. “Following the Equator.” His writings on this trip take on a different tone. In the first book, for instance, he detailed the beauty of the Heidelberg Castle, while in the second he documents Tasmanian convict-camps. His humorous writing style is laced with anger over the treatment of indigenous peoples, particularly in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
His short essays on “Other Travels” completes this collection, together with a comprehensive life chronology, and appendices, along with his own art sketches and poems.
This enduring collection published by The Library of America with a mission to preserve the most significant writings of American’s best is edited by Roy Blount, Jr, a humorist, author, performer and lecturer.
Reviewer: Kate Padilla