Sam wrote his mother with a somewhat backhanded apology for shocking her at his destination. He then described an exhibit of what would later become “the wild men of Borneo,” and a brief mention of the Crystal Palace and the Marble Palace. Sam found lodging in a mechanics’ boarding house on Duane Street.
My Dear Mother: you will doubtless be a little surprised, and somewhat angry when you receive this, and find me so far from home; but you must bear a little with me, for you know I was always the best boy you had, and perhaps you remember the people used to say to their children—“Now don’t do likeO rion and Henry Clemens but take Sam for your guide!
Well, I was out of work in St. Louis, and didn’t fancy loafing in such a dry place, where there is no pleasure to be seen without paying well for it, and so I thought I might as well go to New York. I packed up my “duds” and left for this village, where I arrived, all right, this morning.
It took a day, by steamboat and cars, to go from St. Louis to Bloomington, Ill; another day by railroad, from there to Chicago, where I laid over all day Sunday; from Chicago to Monroe, in Michigan, by railroad, another day; from Monroe, across Lake Erie, in the fine Lake palace, “Southern Michigan,” to Buffalo, another day; from Buffalo to Albany, by railroad, another day; and from Albany to New York, by Hudson river steamboat, another day—an awful trip, taking five days, where it should have been only three. I shall wait a day or so for my insides to get settled, after the jolting they received, when I shall look out for a sit for they say there is plenty of work to be had for sober compositors.
The trip, however, was a very pleasant one. Rochester, famous on account of the “Spirit Rappings” was of course interesting; and when I saw the Court House in Syracuse, it called to mind the time when it was surrounded with chains and companies of soldiers, to prevent the rescue of McReynolds’ nigger, by the infernal abolitionists. I reckon I had better black my face, for in these Eastern States niggers are considerably better than white people.
I saw a curiosity to-day, but I don’t know what to call it. Two beings, about like common people, with the exception of their faces, which are more like the “phiz” of an orang-outang, than human. They are white, though, like other people. lmagine a person about the size of Harvel Jordan’s oldest boy, with small lips and full breast, with a constant uneasy, fidgety motion, bright, intelligent eyes, that seems as if they would look through you, and you have these things. They were found in the island of Borneo (the only ones of the species ever discovered,) about twenty years ago. One of them is twenty three, and the other twenty five years of age. They possess amazing strength; the smallest one would shoulder three hundred pounds as easily as I would a plug of tobacco; they are supposed to be a cross between man and orang-outang; one is the best natured being in the world, while the other would tear a stranger to pieces, if he did but touch him; they wear their hair “Samson” fashion, down to their waists. They have no apple in their throats, whatever, and can therefore scarcely make a sound; no memory either; what transpires to-day, they have forgotten before to-morrow; they look like one mass of muscle, and can walk either on all fours or upright; when let alone, they will walk to and fro across the room, thirteen hours out of the twenty-four; not a day passes but they walk twenty-five or thirty miles, without resting thirty minutes; I watched them about an hour and they were “tramping” the whole time. The little one bent his arm with the elbow in front, and the hand pointing upward, and no two strapping six footers in the room could pull it out straight. Their faces and eyes are those of the beast, and when they fix their glittering orbs on you with a steady, unflinching gaze, you instinctively draw back a step, and a very unpleasant sensation steals through your veins. They are both males and brothers, and very small, though I do not know their exact hight. I have given you a very lengthy description of the animals, but I have nothing else to write about, and nothing from here would be interesting anyhow. The Crystal Palace is a beautiful building—so is the Marble Palace. If I can find nothing better to write about, I will say something about these in my next.
I found board in a sufficiently villainous mechanics’ boarding-house in Duane Street,” Clemens said in 1906. There were, in fact, numerous boardinghouses on Duane Street. Paine reported that Clemens “did not like the board. He had been accustomed to the Southern mode of cooking, and wrote home complaining that New-Yorkers did not have ‘hot-bread’ or biscuits, but ate ‘light-bread,’ which they allowed to get stale, seeming to prefer it in that way”. If Clemens made his complaint in a letter, as Paine asserts, it is not known to survive.
From John A. Gray’s establishment on the East River side of lower Manhattan, it was about a ten-block walk across town to Duane Street near Broadway on the West Side, where Clemens lived and boarded. Broadway was notably wider than the typical “little, narrow street” of lower Manhattan; it was also packed with carts, hacks, coaches, and omnibuses, not to mention pedestrians.
My boarding house is more than a mile from the office;7 and I can hear the signal calling the hands to work before I start down; they use a steam whistle for that purpose. I work in the fifth story; and from one window I have a pretty good view of the city, while another commands a view of the shipping beyond the Battery; and the “forest of masts,” with all sorts of flags flying, is no mean sight. You have everything in the shape of water craft, from a fishing smack to the steamships and men-of-war; but packed so closely together for miles, that when close to them you can scarcely distinguish one from another.
Of all the commodities, manufactures—or whatever you please to call it—in New York, trundle-bed trash—children I mean—take the lead. Why, from Cliff street, up Frankfort to Nassau street, six or seven squares—my road to dinner—I think I could count two hundred brats. Niggers, mulattoes, quadroons, Chinese, and some the Lord no doubt originally intended to be white, but the dirt on whose faces leaves one uncertain as to that fact, block up the little, narrow street; and to wade through this mass of human vermin, would raise the ire of the most patient person that ever lived. In going to and from my meals, I go by the way of Broadway—and to cross Broadway is the rub—but once across, it is the rub for two or three squares. My plan—and how could I choose another, when there is no other—is to get into the crowd; and when I get in, I am borne, and rubbed, and crowded along, and need scarcely trouble myself about using my own legs; and when I get out, it seems like I had been pulled to pieces and very badly put together again."
Sam relocated to Philadelphia, PA October 1853 to March 1854.
From The Life of Mark Twain: The Early Years, 1835-1871, pp 80-1:
Meanwhile, he played the tourist and sent Orion a pair of letters for publication in the Muscatine Journal. In them Sam described his visits to the graves of Benjamin and Deborah Franklin in Germantown; Carpenters Hall, where the first U.S. Congress assembled; the campus of Girard College; and the original Fairmont Park. On the “sacred ground” of Independence Hall, where the declaration was signed, he experienced “an unaccountable feeling of awe and reverence.” He reclined on a pine bench where Franklin and George Washington had once sat and, in a letter to his mother and sister, admitted that he had repressed the temptation to whittle off a chip. He crisscrossed the city by horsecar, citing without credit R. A. Smith’s Philadelphia as It Is in 1852 in his correspondence with the Journal. Sam's tendency to paraphrase or plagiarize from guidebooks eventually became almost routine, especially in his travel writings. He may have acquired the habit—and thought nothing of it—while copying from newspaper exchanges at the typecase.
In the first flush of his pleasure in Philadelphia, Sam admitted to his sister that it had been “as hard on my conscience to leave New York, as it was easy to leave Hannibal.” But he soon adjusted to the rhythms of the Quaker City. “Unlike New York, I like this Philadelphia amazingly,” he wrote on October 26. But succumbing to the xenophobia common at the time, he was put off by the number of “abominable foreigners” he encountered. He complained when he visited the shop of the Philadelphia North American that “there was at least one foreighner [sic] for every American at work there,” He was particularly offended by the Irish immigrants who worked beside him at the Inquirer and “hate everything American.” He had never seen before “so many whisky-swilling, God-despising heathens as I find in this part of the country. I believe I am the only person in the Inquirer office that does not drink.” He was still honoring his oath to his mother. He soon adapted to the local custom, however, including what the printers called “a ‘free-and-easy saloons” on Saturday nights, when “a chairman is appointed, who calls on any of the assembled company for a song or recitation.” As he wrote home, “It is hard to get tired of Philadelphia, for amusements are not scarce.
While there he spent a long weekend in Washington DC,
From pages 81-2
He did not apparently look for work, though he wrote an account of the trip for the Muscatine Journal. The city as a whole he thought “a wide stretch of cheap little brick houses, with here and there a noble architectural pile lifting itself out of the midst—government buildings, these.” ...
The Treasury building, he thought, would command respect in any capital” and the redbrick Smithsonian Institution seemed “half-church and half-castle.” The White House reminded him of “a fine large white barn, with wide unhandsome grounds about it. . . . It is ugly enough outside, but that is nothing to what it is inside. Dreariness, flimsiness, bad taste reduced to mathematical completeness is what the inside offers to the eye. He was more impressed by Clark Mills’s statue of Andrew Jackson commemorating the Battle of New Orleans, recently unveiled in Lafayette Square, across Pennsylvania Avenue from the Executive Mansion. Construction on the Washington Monument, begun in 1848, had stalled at only about 150 feet, a mere stub of what had been planned and less than a third of its final height of 555 feet,
But the U.S. Capitol was the public building that most impressed Sam. Standing on “the verge of a high piece of table land, a fine commanding position, with its white marble facade and “great rotunda,” the “temple of liberty was, he thought, “a very noble and a very beautiful building, both within and without.” During his visit to the public galleries there he watched as the Senate and the House of Representatives debated the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. On the Senate side he heard speeches by Lewis Cass of Michigan, Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, and William Seward of New York. Seward struck him as “a slim, dark, bony individual” who looked “like a respectable wind would blow him out of the country. On the House side he observed Thomas Hart Benton, the former senator from Missouri, sitting “silent and gloomy in the midst of the din, like a lion imprisoned in a cage of monkeys, who, feeling his superiority, disdains to notice their chattering.” As in New York, Sam complained about the racial diversity of the city, comparing Washington to “a Hottentot village.” According to the 1850 census, nearly one-third of the more than fifty thousand residents of the District of Columbia were black, over ten thousand of them free men and women of color. A decade before the abolition of slavery in the district in 1862—and well before the Great Migration from the South of the early twentieth century—it had become a destination for free blacks.”
Returning to Philadelphia and two weeks later back to New York.
Clemens’s removal to New York very likely occurred about two weeks after his return to Philadelphia. On 10 March and again on 17 March there were unclaimed letters for him in Philadelphia, an indication that by then he had left the city (“List of Letters Remaining in the Philadelphia Post Office,” Philadelphia Public Ledger, 11 and 20 Mar 54, 4). Paine reported, “His second experience in New York appears not to have been recorded, and in later years was only vaguely remembered”. Perhaps Clemens erased this period from his memory because it was a time of financial distress and bruised pride. His former confidence in his ability to “take care of himself a few miles from home” must have been shaken in the spring of 1854. Unemployment among New York printers was high, at least in part the result of the destruction by fire of two major publishing houses, Harper and Brothers and George F. Cooledge and Brothers, in December 1853 (“Destructive Fire,” New York Times, 12 Dec 53, 1). Forty-five years later Clemens acknowledged that he had been “obliged by financial stress” to return home.
In 1906 Clemens described this return trip: “I went back to the Mississippi Valley, sitting upright in the smoking-car two or three days and nights. When I reached St. Louis I was exhausted. I went to bed on board a steamboat that was bound for Muscatine. I fell asleep at once, with my clothes on, and didnt’ wake again for thirty-six hours”.