Fifth Trip to Bermuda: 1908 January 25 – February 6
On earlier excursions with Twichell he had favored the North Shore and its unimpeded vistas toward the ocean. A deep Mediterranean blue, Mark Twain had written, was “about the divinest color known to nature,” and its beauty could break the heart. The sparkle of the sea was like that of diamonds. “Nothing is so beautiful,” he wrote in Following the Equator, “as a rose diamond with the light playing through it, except that uncostly thing which is just like it—wavy sea-water with the sunlight playing through it and striking a white-sand bottom.” Riding in the donkey cart, Clemens usually meandered northwest to Spanish Point, so known since the settlers early in the seventeenth century discovered evidence of Spanish castaways. Topographically considered, Spanish Point gave shape to the Great Sound and protected Hamilton Harbor. It also offered broad views that encompassed Ireland Island and the Dockyard.
Clemens signed a petition written by Woodrow Wilson on banning motorcars from the islands:
We, the undersigned, visitors to Bermuda, venture respectfully to express the opinion that the admission of automobiles to the island would alter the whole character of the place. . . .
The island now attracts visitors in considerable numbers because of the quiet and dignified simplicity of its life. It derives its principal charm from its utter detachment from the world of strenuous business and feverish pleasure in which most of us are obliged to spend the greater part of our time. . . .
[W]e are confident that the free introduction of such vehicles, especially by visitors, would in the mind of everyone capable of appreciating the natural and wholesome pleasures of the place make it a place to shun rather than to resort to. . . .
The danger to be apprehended is chiefly from reckless tourists who would care nothing for local opinion or for the convenience and safety of others. This is one of the last refuges now left in the world to which one can come to escape such persons. It would, in our opinion, be a fatal error to attract to
Bermuda the extravagant and sporting set who have made so many other places of pleasure entirely intolerable to persons of taste and cultivation.
A rabid letter signed “Americus” appeared in the Royal Gazette a few days later:
There is little doubt that the automobile is the worst affliction that has cursed the world since the beginning of civilization.
The cruelties of the Spanish Inquisition had some justification because they were supposed to be necessary for the salvation of souls, but there is no possible excuse for the use of the mercilessly murderous automobiles because they are employed solely for the personal gratification of individuals whose frenzied desire for pleasure cannot be satisfied without the excitement of some pursuit which will bring them continuously face to face with danger to life and limb.
They are so frightfully dangerous that their use ought to be considered an attack upon the welfare of society, and every operator should be instantly apprehended under the common law on a charge of criminal recklessness. . . .
It is a curious obsession. In many instances homes and farms are mortgaged to obtain the means for the gratification of the monstrous passion.
Wilson’s petition and the polemic from Americus helped curb the monstrous passion, and private automobiles were banned by a law not repealed until 1946. (The Bermuda Railway, which began service in 1931, expired in 1948. Cars today are limited to four cylinders, with only one car to a household. Although the speed limit is thirty-five kilometers, or less than twenty-two miles, an hour, cars remain ill-suited to the curved and narrow roads, which are crowded by stone walls and plant life, threatened by concealed entrances, and rarely graced by shoulders or sidewalks. Motor scooters flourish. At most places on the Islands, the peace and quiet that Clemens so appreciated is attained only on weekend mornings.)