When we think about the great 19th century American writer Mark Twain, his lauded Mississippi River novels usually come to mind. However, it was the 1869 travel book The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrim’s Progress which first brought him prominence. The New-York Historical Society has opened an exhibition dedicated to Twain’s first blockbuster book. Running through February 2, 2020, this is an intriguing look at the young author on the eve of celebrity. The exhibit features Twain documents and letters, photographs, artifacts, and books.
In 1867, Mark Twain was an up and coming journalist, humorist, and public speaker visiting New York City. When he read about the new concept of a pleasure cruise to Europe and the Mediterranean on a ship called the Quaker City, Twain convinced a San Francisco newspaper to pay for his passage in return for a weekly travel column on the voyage and this early foray into organized tourism.
The voyage of the Quaker City was well documented by an onboard professional photographer. Some of William E. James’ images are included in the exhibition, including the one below featuring Twain. The author is seated on the floor next to the man holding a hat.
Twain mined his experiences on the ship and during shore excursions for humorous pieces about vagaries of tourism. He dedicated some of his most cutting writing to the hugely disappointing time that he spent in Palestine. Still, Twain’s participation in the trip and his subsequent writing helped to launch American travel writing.