As the eyes of the world descend upon England for the Olympics, this country has welcomed the Olympians, spectators, and tourists who have descended upon London and the country at large. Yet, this country and its historic capital have drawn the admiration and attention of the world through the ages, drawing in tourists from across the world long before any Olympic torch was lit; one of these travelers was Sam Clemens himself.
In the summer of 1879, from Sunday, July 20th to Saturday, August 23rd, the Clemens family toured England, beginning their visit in London. Like most people encounter today, when the Clemens arrived in London, it was rainy and cold (the exact same weather which encumbered the women’s bicycling and volleyball competitions). Despite being in a new city, one of the first activities for Sam was shopping for cigars and whiskey. It seems that even across the Atlantic Sam couldn’t resist a smoke.
After a smoke and some touring, Sam met one of England’s iconic writers, Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It seems, however, that Sam wasn’t a fan, for he wrote that “he was only interesting to look at, for he was the stillest and shyest full-grown man I have ever met except ‘Uncle Remus.’”
With the end of his visit with Carroll, the Clemens ended this brief London stay, moving to North Shropshire for some rest and relaxation on the coast. After this stay, the family moved back to their base of London, touring the main sites, like the National Gallery of London and the Royal Aquarium. At the conclusion of these visits the family went to hear the Baptist Preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon speak, and while today this may not be considered a main attraction, listening to sermons was vastly popular back in the days of the Clemens. Sam’s questioning and controversial attitude towards religion came out here as well, for he commented that they all were “A wooden-faced congregation—just the sort to see no incongruity in the Majesty of Heaven stooping to beg & plead & sentimentalize over such, & see in their salvation an important matter.”
This ended their stay in London for the rest of the duration for the trip, for the Clemens then traveled to the Lake District, a place that has inspired many English writers such as Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey, together known as the Lake Poets. Here, however, Twain did not talk literature, for evolution was more at the forefront for here he met Charles Darwin. After their stay in the Lake District, the Clemens sailed back to New York, ending their tour of England.
This tour of England was not the only for the Sam Clemens, who returned multiple times on speaking tours. While one hundred and thirty three years later, the England Sam visited has altered with time, it, as well as London, still remain a main center for visitors across the globe.
-- Sam Nystrom, Twain House Summer Intern
*All information from Mark Twain Day by Day: An Annotated Chronology Of the Life of Samuel L. Clemens, Volume One (1835-1885) by David H. Fears