June 21, 2011

Mark Twain in Hawaii: a pretty good time

Samuel L. Clemens had only been using the name "Mark Twain" for a short time when he became nationally-recognized as a writer. He still was more of a journalist than a fiction writer, however, and it was as a reporter for the Sacramento Union that he traveled to Hawaii. After touring the big island, Clemens wrote to his mother and sister from Honolulu on June 21, 1866:

I have just got back from a hard trip through the Island of Hawaii... I staid at the volcano about a week and witnessed the greatest eruption that has occurred for years. I lived well there... I had a pretty good time.

Despite his good time, Clemens also came down with a case of the mumps, though he did not let it hinder his trip. He spent another three weeks in Hawaii before making the return trip to California. He also met with some other important Americans who were in town, including the U.S. Minister to China, Anson Burlingame. Burlingame was excited to meet Clemens, and immediately sent for his son who, Clemens wrote, claimed "he could tell that frog story of mine as well as anybody. I told him I was glad to hear it for I never tried to tell it myself without making a botch of it."

Clemens's experience in the Sandwich Islands inspired a lecture he presented later that year — a lecture which was, unfortunately, not accompanied by fireworks.

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