Submitted by scott on

Clemens had confused the population of Hamilton, which Harper’s Monthly estimated at no more than 2,000, with the entire population of the Islands, given in the census of 1871 as 12,121. Nor were the races equally divided; the census showed 7,396 colored persons and 4,725 whites:   The women and young girls, black and white, who occasionally passed by, were nicely clad, and many were elegantly and fashionably so. The men did not affect summer clothing much, but the girls and women did, and their white garments were good to look at, after so many months of familiarity with sombre colors.   Around one isolated potato barrel stood four young gentlemen, two black, two white, becomingly dressed, each with the head of a slender cane pressed against his teeth, and each with a foot propped up on the barrel. Another young gentleman came up, looked longingly at the barrel, but saw no rest for his foot there, and turned pensively away to seek another barrel. . . . Nobody sat upon a barrel, as is the custom of the idle in other lands, yet all the isolated barrels were humanly occupied. . . . The habits of all peoples are determined by their circumstances. The Bermudians lean upon barrels because of the scarcity of lamp-posts.

We saw scores of colored farmers digging their crops of potatoes and onions, their wives and children helping—entirely contented and comfortable, if looks go for anything. We never met a man, or woman, or child anywhere in this sunny island who seemed to be unprosperous, or discontented, or sorry about anything. This sort of monotony became very tiresome presently, and even something worse. The spectacle of an entire nation groveling in contentment is an infuriating thing. We felt the lack of something in this community—a vague, an indefinable, an elusive something, and yet a lack. But after considerable thought we made out what it was—tramps. Let them go there, right now, in a body. It is utterly virgin soil. Passage is cheap. Every true patriot in America will help buy tickets. Whole armies of these excellent beings can be spared from our midst and our polls; they will find a delicious climate and a green, kind-hearted people. There are potatoes and onions for all, and a generous welcome for the first batch that arrives, and elegant graves for the second.

It was the Early Rose potato the people were digging. Later in the year they have another crop, which they call the Garnet. We buy their potatoes (retail) at fifteen dollars a barrel; and those colored farmers buy ours for a song, and live on them. Havana might exchange cigars with Connecticut in the same advantageous way, if she thought of it.

We passed a roadside grocery with a sign up, “Potatoes Wanted.” An ignorant stranger, doubtless. He could not have gone thirty steps from his place without finding plenty of them.

In several fields the arrowroot crop was already sprouting. Bermuda used to make a vast annual profit out of this staple before firearms came into such general use.

The island is not large. Somewhere in the interior a man ahead of us had a very slow horse. I suggested that we had better go by him; but the driver said the man had but a little way to go. I waited to see, wondering how he could know. Presently the man did turn down another road. I asked, “How did you know he would?”

“Because I knew the man, and where he lived.”

I asked him, satirically, if he knew everybody in the island; he answered, very simply, that he did. This gives a body’s mind a good substantial grip on the dimensions of the place.

Clemens made more notebook entries on shipboard. “Bermuda is free (at present) from the triple curse of railways, telegraphs & newspapers,” he wrote, “but this will not outlast next year. I propose to spend next year there & no more.” He revised those thoughts for the “Idle Excursion”:   There are several “sights” in the Bermudas, of course, but they are easily avoided. This is a great advantage,—one cannot have it in Europe. Bermuda is the right country for a jaded man to “loaf” in. There are no harassments; the deep peace and quiet of the country sink into one’s body and bones and give his conscience a rest, and chloroform the legion of invisible small devils that are always trying to whitewash his hair. . . .   The Bermudians are hoping soon to have telegraphic communication with the world. But even after they shall have acquired this curse it will still be a good country to go to for a vacation, for there are charming little islets scattered about the enclosed sea where one could live secure from interruption. The telegraph boy would have to come in a boat, and one could easily kill him while he was making his landing.