Second Trip: Sunday, May 20 to Thursday, May 24, 1877
This visit to the islands was the subject of a piece published in 1877, “Some Rambling Notes on an Idle Excursion”, written for the Atlantic magazine, Oct. to Jan. 1878
All the journeyings I had ever done had been purely in the way of business. The pleasant May weather suggested a novelty namely, a trip for pure recreation, the bread-and-butter element left out. The Reverend said he would go, too; a good man, one of the best of men, although a clergyman. By eleven at night we were in New Haven and on board the New York boat. We bought our tickets, and then went wandering around here and there, in the solid comfort of being free and idle, and of putting distance between ourselves and the mails and telegraphs.
At eight o’clock on the third morning out from New York, land was sighted. Away across the sunny waves one saw a faint dark stripe stretched along under the horizon—or pretended to see it, for the credit of his eyesight. Even the Reverend said he saw it, a thing which was manifestly not so. But I never have seen any one who was morally strong enough to confess that he could not see land when others claimed that they could.
By and by the Bermuda Islands were easily visible. The principal one lay upon the water in the distance, a long, dull-colored body; scalloped with slight hills and valleys. We could not go straight at it, but had to travel all the way around it, sixteen miles from shore, because it is fenced with an invisible coral reef. At last we sighted buoys, bobbing here and there, and then we glided into a narrow channel among them, “raised the reef,” and came upon shoaling blue water that soon further shoaled into pale green, with a surface scarcely rippled. Now came the resurrection hour; the berths gave up their dead. Who are these pale specters in plug-hats and silken flounces that file up the companionway in melancholy procession and step upon the deck? These are they which took the infallible preventive of seasickness in New York harbor and then disappeared and were forgotten. Also there came two or three faces not seen before until this moment. One’s impulse is to ask, “Where did you come aboard?”
We followed the narrow channel a long time, with land on both sides—low hills that might have been green and grassy, but had a faded look instead. However, the land-locked water was lovely, at any rate, with its glittering belts of blue and green where moderate soundings were, and its broad splotches of rich brown where the rocks lay near the surface. Everybody was feeling so well that even the grave, pale young man (who, by a sort of kindly common consent, had come latterly to be referred to as “The Ass”) received frequent and friendly notice—which was right enough, for there was no harm in him.
At last we steamed between two island points whose rocky jaws allowed only just enough room for the vessel’s body, and now before us loomed Hamilton on her clustered hillsides and summits, the whitest mass of terraced architecture that exists in the world, perhaps.
It was Sunday afternoon, and on the pier were gathered one or two hundred Bermudians, half of them black, half of them white, and all of them nobbily dressed, as the poet says.
The steamer Bermuda did not anchor up north at St. George’s where the Quaker City had a decade before. It went down the North Shore to Grassy Bay and entered the Great Sound. The ship had sailed through the North Channel to the East End, where it entered the Narrows Channel by the coast of St. George’s Island, close to the shoals where the Sea Venture wrecked. It turned back along the North Shore to Grassy Bay, and entered the Great Sound. After passing islands large and small (a scene, later, that Lady Brassey thought “very Norwegian in character”), the Bermuda approached Hamilton Harbor by slipping between Hinson’s Island and Marshall’s Island, an opening known as Timlins’ Narrows. "We followed the narrow channel a long time, with land on both sides,—low hills that might have been green and grassy, but had a faded look instead. However, the land-locked water was lovely, at any rate, with its glittering belts of blue and green where moderate soundings were, and its broad splotches of rich brown where the rocks lay near the surface. . . . At last we steamed between two island points whose rocky jaws allowed only just enough room for the vessel’s body, and now before us loomed Hamilton on her clustered hillsides and summits, the whitest mass of terraced architecture that exists in the world, perhaps. . . ."
So the Reverend and I had at last arrived at Hamilton, the principal town in the Bermuda Islands. A wonderfully white town; white as snow itself. White as marble; white as flour. Yet looking like none of these, exactly. Never mind, we said; we shall hit upon a figure by and by that will describe this peculiar white.
It was a town that was compacted together upon the sides and tops of a cluster of small hills. Its outlying borders fringed off and thinned away among the cedar forests, and there was no woody distance of curving coast or leafy islet sleeping upon the dimpled, painted sea, but was flecked with shining white points—half-concealed houses peeping out of the foliage. The architecture of the town was mainly Spanish, inherited from the colonists of two hundred and fifty years ago. Some ragged-topped cocoa-palms, glimpsed here and there, gave the land a tropical aspect.
There was an ample pier of heavy masonry; upon this, under shelter, were some thousands of barrels containing that product which has carried the fame of Bermuda to many lands, the potato. With here and there an onion. That last sentence is facetious; for they grow at least two onions in Bermuda to one potato. The onion is the pride and joy of Bermuda. It is her jewel, her gem of gems. In her conversation, her pulpit, her literature, it is her most frequent and eloquent figure. In Bermuda metaphor it stands for perfection—perfection absolute.
Hotel Closed [The season was over].
We went ashore and found a novelty of a pleasant nature: there were no hackmen, hacks, or omnibuses on the pier or about it anywhere, and nobody offered his services to us, or molested us in any way. I said it was like being in heaven. The Reverend rebukingly and rather pointedly advised me to make the most of it, then. We knew of a boarding-house, and what we needed now was somebody to pilot us to it. Presently a little barefooted colored boy came along, whose raggedness was conspicuously not un-Bermudian. His rear was so marvelously bepatched with colored squares and triangles that one was half persuaded he had got it out of an atlas. When the sun struck him right, he was as good to follow as a lightning-bug. We hired him and dropped into his wake. He piloted us through one picturesque street after another, and in due course deposited us where we belonged. He charged nothing for his map, and but a trifle for his services: so the Reverend doubled it. The little chap received the money with a beaming applause in his eye which plainly said, “This man’s an onion!”
We had brought no letters of introduction; our names had been misspelled in the passenger-list; nobody knew whether we were honest folk or otherwise. So we were expecting to have a good private time in case there was nothing in our general aspect to close boarding-house doors against us. We had no trouble. Bermuda has had but little experience of rascals, and is not suspicious. We got large, cool, well-lighted rooms on a second floor, overlooking a bloomy display of flowers and flowering shrubscalia and annunciation lilies, lantanas, heliotrope, jasmine, roses, pinks, double geraniums, oleanders, pomegranates, blue morning-glories of a great size, and many plants that were unknown to me.
May 21 Monday – Bermuda. In the morning Sam and Twichell hiked again; they took a carriage ride in the afternoon.
"Was awakened at 6AM Monday by our ambitious young rooster—looked out saw him swelling around a yellow cat asleep on ground. Birds, a bugle & various noises. Then a piano over the way…
Bought white shoes & pipe-clay. Walked till hurt heel.
After noonday dinner:
Drove along shore—one horse & intelligent colored man. The sea-view always enchanting…
That fool [Twichell] with us sees “Onions Wanted” & innocently gets out to tell man plenty along the road.
Living is very cheap & there’s potatoes & onions for all. Nobody can starve. Plenty of schools—everybody can read.
Sam noted the quarry blocks used for construction, cheap prices of houses, a myriad of flowers and plants, animals of all sorts out grazing, and everywhere white. "The whitest and shabbiest town in the northeast would be shabby next to Bermuda, ..."
May 22 Tuesday – Sam and Joe crossed the Causeway and arrived at St. George, Bermuda. They checked into the Globe Hotel at 32 Duke of York Street. The Globe was a “ponderous stone structure with huge chimneys” built in 1699-1700 as a governor’s house. The travelers registered under the names “S. Langhorne” and “JH Twichell USA”.
At the principal hotel in St. George’s, a young girl, with a sweet, serious face, said we could not be furnished with dinner, because we had not been expected, and no preparation had been made….I said we were not very hungry; a fish would do. My little maid answered, it was not the market-day for fish. Things began to look serious; but presently the boarder who sustained the hotel came in, and when the case was laid before him he was cheerfully willing to divide. So we had much pleasant chat at table about St. George’s chief industry, the repairing of damaged ships; and in between we had a soup that had something in it that seemed to taste like the hereafter, but it proved to be only pepper of a particular vivacious kind. And we had iron-clad chicken that was deliciously cooked, but not in the right way. Baking was not the thing to convince his sort….No matter; we had potatoes and a pie and a sociable good time. Then a ramble across town, which is a quaint one, with interesting, crooked streets, and narrow, crooked lanes, with here and there a grain of dust.
May 23 Wednesday – Sam and Joe spent their four days on the island walking and talking, observing people, flora and fauna and the countryside.
From Sam’s notebook:
That piano & that tune & that rooster were silent this morning. Somebody’s been telling.
Flags at ½ mast for a citizen
Rained like everything. Couldn’t go sailing. Dined aboard the ship.
Rained all day—came home middle of afternoon—bright moonlight at night. We started at 8 & walked to North Shore & then around west & across to town, Joe stepping in an occasional puddle, to my intense enjoyment. Got caught in rain. Walked 5 or 6 miles in new shoes. They were 7s when I started & 5s when I got back.
May 24 Thursday – Sam and Joe returned to Hamilton and boarded the Bermuda, preparing to leave.
At 4 PM the steamship Bermuda, Captain Angrove, sailed from Hamilton, Bermuda “on the Queen’s birthday”. Sam noted that at 7 PM “All the ladies are sea-sick & gone to bed except a Scotchman’s wife.” Then, “7.30. The Scotchman’s wife has caved.”
Friday, May 25.—Jonas Smith, ten days out from Bermuda, 250 miles. Signal of distress flying (flag in the main rigging with the Union down.) Went out of our course to see her. Heavy ground swell on the sea, but no wind. They launched their boat, stern first, from the deck amidships…The vessel had an absurdly large crew—we could see as many as a dozen colored men lying around taking it easy on her deck.”
Sam reflected on Bermuda in his notebook:
"There are several “sights” in the Bermudas, of course, but they re 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."
From pages 215-6 The Life of Mark Twain - The Middle Years 1871-1891:
No sooner had Sam returned from overseeing rehearsals of Ab Sin in Baltimore than he planned another excursion with Joe Twichell, this one to Bermuda. He needed a sea voyage, he explained to Sue Crane, “to get the world & the devil out of my head so that I can start fresh at the farm early in June.” On May 16 the two friends sailed on a night boat from New Haven and the next day they embarked from New York on the steamer Bermuda for Sam's ‘first actual pleasure trip” in his life. The ship docked the morning of May 20 at Hamilton, the capital of the British territory. Though Sam had paused there briefly in 1867 on the return voyage of the Quaker City, he described it now as “a wonderfully white town; white as snow itself. White as marble; white as flour.” He and Twichell went to extraordinary lengths to travel incognito. They “brought no letters of introduction; our names had been misspelt in the passenger-list; nobody knew whether we were honest folk or otherwise.” Sam “traveled under an assumed name & was never molested with a polite attention from anybody.” They registered under cognomens—in Sams case, S. Langhorne—at a private boardinghouse where they were assigned “large, cool, well-lighted rooms on a second floor, overlooking a bloomy display of flowers and flowering shrubscalia.
During the four days Sam and Twichell spent in Bermuda—"three bright ones out of doors and one rainy one in the house"—the friends “roamed about Bermuda day & night & never ceased to gabble & enjoy"; drove to the town of St. George's; visited Devil’s Hole, a collapsed sea cavern; and attended a racially integrated Episcopal church service. Sam reveled in the cleanliness of the main island. “Nowhere is there dirt or stench, puddle or hog-wallow, neglect, disorder, or lack of trimness and neatness,” he wrote. “The roads, the streets, the dwellings, the people, the clothes—this neatness extends to everything that falls under the eye. It is the tidiest country in the world.” The prosperity of the Bermudians also pleased him, though he “felt the lack of something in this community—a vague, an indefinable, an elusive something” that was missing until “after considerable thought we made out what it was—tramps,” his favorite flogging horse.
Sam and Twichell embarked on the Bermuda for their return to New York on May 24 and, the first day out from Hamilton, the ship encountered the bark Jonas Smith adrift without nautical instruments, Sam was intrigued by the plight of the crew and wrote a letter to the editor of the Hartford Courant about the tramp steamer upon his return, though by that time the ship had been assisted by a revenue cutter. The Bermuda landed back in New York on Sunday, May 27, and, in retrospect, Sam’s only regret was that Howells had not joined them on the trip. “If you had gone with us & let me pay the $50 which the trip, & the board & the various nick-nacks & mementoes would cost," he wrote his friend, “I would have picked up enough droppings from your conversation to pay me 500 per cent profit in the way of the several magazine articles which I could have written, whereas I can now write only one or two & am therefore largely out of pocket by your proud ways.” Twichell, too, expressed his appreciation to Sam for sponsoring his holiday. “I'm afraid I shall not see as green a spot again soon,” he wrote. “And it was your invention and your gift. And your company was the best of it. Indeed, I never took more comfort in being with you than on this journey, which, my boy, is saying a great deal.” He had “derived very marked physical benefit from the recreation and rest." Sam had enjoyed the trip no less than Twichell, as he acknowledged in reply: “It was much the joyousest trip I ever had, Joe—not a heartache in it, not a twinge of conscience,”