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AFTER twenty-one years' absence, I felt a very strong desire to see the river again, and the steamboats, and such of the boys as might be left; so I resolved to go out there. I enlisted a poet for company, and a stenographer to 'take him down,' and started westward about the middle of April.

It is noted by Matt Seybold in  Even If He Weren’t My Friend: Frederick Douglass & Mark Twain, that Twain's interest in revisiting the  Mississippi river began "in earnest" one week after the Fredrick Douglass speech on August 3, 1880.  

This trip led directly to the composition of "Life On The Mississippi "(1883) – the less idyllic sequel to "Old Times" – but is most often credited for renewing Twain’s interest in the manuscript of "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" (1885). The assumption (sometimes called the Holbrook Thesis because Hal Holbrook articulates it so convincingly in Ken Burns’s "Mark Twain") is that the continued degradation of formerly enslaved people which Twain witnessed during his first trip to the region since the outset of the Civil War (and which Douglass also describes in vivid detail) convinced him that a novel focused on the blinding hypocrisy, dehumanization, absurdity, and ritualized violence of the antebellum period was still relevant.

Isaac Gewirtz, in Mark Twain A Skeptic's Progress, writes of Mark Twain's comparisons the southern and northern Mississippi River:

But the glow of Twain’s optimism over the Northern Mississippi cast long shadows into his past—the recent past of his voyage north through the Southern Mississippi, and the more distant past of the antebellum South, in worship of which Southerners had submerged themselves. Twain was embarrassed by the backwardness of the towns and cities of the Southern Mississippi (excepting the plentiful lights and residential architecture of New Orleans). Whereas the northern cities are remarkable for their cleanliness, industry, concern for the public welfare, and respect for the law, those of the South are shabby, dirty, unpaved, and poorly administered.  ...

When Twain revisits his home town of Hannibal, he finds that though it has grown into a city of fifteen thousand, it “is paved like the rest of the West & South—where a well paved street & a good sidewalk” remain rarities. ...

Though Twain does not criticize the South explicitly for its lack of industrial and manufacturing capacity, the comparison is implicit and would have been understood by any well-informed, contemporary reader.  The subject had been addressed by progressive civic leaders in the South since the 1840s, and with increasing vigor after the Civil War. Their efforts had little effect, however, chiefly because the Southern elite was committed to preserving an economic system that promoted agricultural production, in order to maintain a social hierarchy that was based on a plantation-dominated economy.

We left per Pennsylvania Railroad, at 8 A.M. April 18.

19 April, 1882:  New York to St. Louis
20 April - depart St. Louis, MO aboard Gold Dust
21 April - paused at Menard, IL (probably Chester, IL)  St. Louis to Cairo.
21 April - stopped at Cairo, IL  (From Cairo to Memphis:  1882)
23 April - toured Memphis, TN (See Postwar Memphis) (From Memphis to Napoleon)
24 April - passed Napoleon, AR    (Napoleon to Vicksburg)
26 April - visited Vicksburg, MS and boarded Charles Morgan (Vicksburg, 1882) (Vicksburg to Baton Rouge)
27 April - stopped at Baton Rouge, LA (Baton Rouge to New Orleans)
28 April - arrived New Orleans, LA

6 May - departed New Orleans,LA aboard City of Baton Rouge
7 May - arrived Natchez, MS
8 May - arrived Vicksburg, MS
10 May - Memphis, TN
11 May - Cairo, IL
12 May - arrived St. Louis, MO
13 May - departed St. Louis, MO aboard Gem City
14 May - visited Hannibal, MO
17 May - departed Hannibal, MO aboard Minneapolis
17 May - stopped at Quincy, IL
17 May - saw Keokuk, IA
18 May - stopped at Muscatine, IA
19 May - Dubuque, IA
20 May - Lake Pepin, MN
21 May- Arrived St. Paul, MN

Steamboats Itinerary of 1882

The Chicago Tribune ran an interview reprinted in the Washington Post on July 13, 1886, "A River Without Islands", that contain some interesting observations of Twain's.

We came from Buffalo to Duluth by a lake steamer and then from St. Paul down the river to Keokuk. Neither in this country nor in any other have I seen such interesting scenery as that along the Upper Mississippi. One finds all that the Hudson affords — bluffs and wooded highlands — and a great deal in addition. Between St. Paul and the mouth of the Illinois River there are over four hundred islands, strung out in every possible shape. A river without islands is like a woman without hair. She may be good and pure, but one doesn’t fall in love with her very often. Did you ever fall in love with a bald-headed woman?” The reporter admitted that he had drawn the line there.

“It is strange,” continued Mr. Clemens, in momentary forgetfulness of the children, “how little has been written about the Upper Mississippi. The river below St. Louis has been described time and again, and it is the least interesting part. One can sit on the pilot-house for a few hours and watch the low shores, the ungainly trees and the democratic buzzards, and then one might as well go to bed. One has seen everything there is to see. Along the Upper Mississippi every hour brings something new. There are crowds of odd islands, bluffs, prairies, hills, woods and villages — everything one could desire to amuse the children. Few people every think of going there, however. Dickens, Corbett, Mother Trollope and the other discriminating English people who ‘wrote up’ the country before 1842 had hardly an idea that such a stretch of river scenery existed. Their successors have followed in their footsteps, and as we form our opinions of our country from what other people say of us, of course we ignore the finest part of the Mississippi.”

We reached St. Louis at ten o'clock at night. At the counter of the hotel I tendered a hurriedly-invented fictitious name, with a miserable attempt at careless ease. The clerk paused, and inspected me in the compassionate way in which one inspects a respectable person who is found in doubtful circumstances; then he said—

'It's all right; I know what sort of a room you want. Used to clerk at the St. James, in New York.'

Departing New York City:  April 18, 1882 (8 am) Sam Clemens departed New York City, with Hartford schoolteacher Roswell Phelps as stenographer and publisher James R. Osgood, on the Pennsylvania Railroad. His first observation notes the “grace and picturesqueness” of people as he gets further from New York City.

I find that among my notes. It makes no difference which direction you take, the fact remains the same.

MY idea was, to tarry a while in every town between St. Louis and New Orleans. To do this, it would be necessary to go from place to place by the short packet lines. It was an easy plan to make, and would have been an easy one to follow, twenty years ago—but not now. There are wide intervals between boats, these days.


April 21 Friday – The Gold Dust finally got underway at 2 AM and at 6 AM paused at Menard, Ill. to let off passengers near St. Genevieve. Sam enjoyed the scenery, passing Chester, Ill., Grand Tower, Ill.and Cape Girareau, Mo., stopping at Cairo, Ill., some 200 miles from St. Louis.

When I turned out, in the morning, we had passed Columbus, Kentucky, and were approaching Hickman, a pretty town, perched on a handsome hill. Hickman is in a rich tobacco region, and formerly enjoyed a great and lucrative trade in that staple, collecting it there in her warehouses from a large area of country and shipping it by boat; but Uncle Mumford says she built a railway to facilitate this commerce a little more, and he thinks it facilitated it the wrong way—took the bulk of the trade out of her hands by 'collaring it along the line without gathering it at her doors.'


IT was a big river, below Memphis; banks brimming full, everywhere, and very frequently more than full, the waters pouring out over the land, flooding the woods and fields for miles into the interior; and in places, to a depth of fifteen feet; signs, all about, of men's hard work gone to ruin, and all to be done over again, with straitened means and a weakened courage. A melancholy picture, and a continuous one;—hundreds of miles of it.

IN regard to Island 74, which is situated not far from the former Napoleon, a freak of the river here has sorely perplexed the laws of men and made them a vanity and a jest. When the State of Arkansas was chartered, she controlled 'to the center of the river'—a most unstable line. The State of Mississippi claimed 'to the channel'—another shifty and unstable line. No. 74 belonged to Arkansas. By and by a cut-off threw this big island out of Arkansas, and yet not within Mississippi. 'Middle of the river' on one side of it, 'channel' on the other. That is as I understand the problem.

WE used to plow past the lofty hill-city, Vicksburg, down-stream; but we cannot do that now. A cut-off has made a country town of it, like Osceola, St. Genevieve, and several others. There is currentless water—also a big island—in front of Vicksburg now. You come down the river the other side of the island, then turn and come up to the town; that is, in high water: in low water you can't come up, but must land some distance below it.

Chapter 29 of Life on the Mississippi:

WHERE the river, in the Vicksburg region, used to be corkscrewed, it is now comparatively straight—made so by cut-off; a former distance of seventy miles is reduced to thirty-five. It is a change which threw Vicksburg's neighbor, Delta, Louisiana, out into the country and ended its career as a river town. Its whole river-frontage is now occupied by a vast sand-bar, thickly covered with young trees—a growth which will magnify itself into a dense forest by-and-bye, and completely hide the exiled town.

From Baton Rouge to New Orleans, the great sugar plantations border both sides of the river all the way, and stretch their league-wide levels back to the dim forest-walls of bearded cypress in the rear. Shores lonely no longer. Plenty of dwellings all the way, on both banks—standing so close together, for long distances, that the broad river lying between the two rows, becomes a sort of spacious street. A most home-like and happy-looking region. And now and then you see a pillared and porticoed great manor-house, embowered in trees.

Mark Twain returned to New Orleans in 1882, from 28 April to 6 May.

Sunday church with Cable [At Prytania Street Presbyterian Church]  (pg 468)

Winan's Chapel corner First & Dryades [Cable wrote this two-line address in ink at the top of a page.  Winan's Chapel was an African Methodist Episcopal church in New Orleans]

Chapter 41 of Life on the MIssissippi:

6 May - departed New Orleans,LA aboard City of Baton Rouge


WE left for St. Louis in the 'City of Baton Rouge,' on a delightfully hot day, but with the main purpose of my visit but lamely accomplished. I had hoped to hunt up and talk with a hundred steamboatmen, but got so pleasantly involved in the social life of the town that I got nothing more than mere five-minute talks with a couple of dozen of the craft.

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