Twain aboard ship – 1896 photo, 1897 etching

December 1, 2012

One of my favorite images of Mark Twain I found several years ago.  It’s a photograph of Twain, with a genuine smile of some contentment, seated in a deck chair on a ship, feet on the rail, gazing out to sea.

Correspondent J. A. Higginbotham tracked down the origin of the photograph through the Gutenberg Project, and found a nice etching from the photograph at, with sleuthing by Barbara Schmidt, the curator of that site.

Here’s the photo, from the Gutenberg Project’s version of the 1898 American Publishing Company edition of Following the Equator:

Mark Twain, aboard ship, 1896; photo by Walter G. Chase of Boston

Mark Twain, aboard ship in 1896. Photo by Walter G. Chase, of Boston. This photo provided the frontispiece for the 1898 American Publishing Company edition of Following the Equator.

Who was Walter Chase?  So far as I have found, he was a Boston-based photographer.

Samuel L. Clemens, the man behind Mark Twain, undertook a world-wide speaking tour, to restore his fortune after bankruptcy, and to take his mind off the death of his daughter Susy, in August 1896.  At the same time, there was demand for newspaper columns and books on travel.  The resulting book, Following the Equator in the U.S., ended the series of travelogues Twain wrote.  Columns and the book covered his and his family’s adventures in 1896 and 1897; this photo must have originated in late 1896, in the early part of the tour.  We know from Chapter 1 that the land part of the trip, by train, “westward out of New York,” took 40 days.  Twain wrote that it took seven days to get to Hawaii.  We might be safe in saying the photograph shows him gazing at the Pacific.

Without knowing more, we might be tantalized by the prospect that Chase accompanied Twain on much of this tour, and took other photographs.  Twain wrote about games played among the travelers aboard ship, with notes indicating a key player was someone named “Chase.”  We have a photo of Twain posing for a sculptor in Vienna, from this trip. Somewhere, there may be a trunk of photographs . . .

According to Barbara Schmidt’s sleuthing, William Henry Warren Bicknell created the etching from the photograph, for the 1899 uniform edition of Following the Equator.  Bicknell was one of several illustrators used, including Boy Scout founder Daniel Beard.

Mark Twain in the Pacific, etching by W. H. W. Bicknell, from 1896 photograph by Walter G. Chase,

W. H. W. Bicknell’s etching from the 1896 Walter G. Chase photograph of Mark Twain, aboard a ship in the Pacific Ocean.

Schmidt uses a colored version of the etching on her website’s own frontispiece.  No doubt she describes it in more detail, but I have not found that description.

A color version of an etching of Mark Twain, based on Chase's 1896 photograph.  Image via, Barbara Schmidt's site.

A color version of an etching of Mark Twain, based on Chase’s 1896 photograph. Image via, Barbara Schmidt’s site.

A fitting way to end a day of commemorating Mark Twain’s birthday, to discover the origins of one of my favorite images of the man.

New question:  With the exception of the color image, each version includes Twain’s autograph, “Be good & you will be lonesome,” with his signature.  Was this an autograph done solely for the book, or was it an autograph to the publisher, editor, or photographer?

Tip of the old scrub brush to correspondent J. A. Higginbotham.


Mark Twain

Mark Twain (Photo credit: Wikipedia) – Another, earlier image of Twain, origins to sleuth down!

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