Twain aboard ship – 1896 photo, 1897 etching

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!

2 Responses to Twain aboard ship – 1896 photo, 1897 etching

  1. […] Twain aboard ship – 1896 photo, 1897 etching ( […]


  2. Mark Twain in his study at Quarry Farm in Elmira, NY, 1874
    Courtesy Elmira College, The Center for Mark Twain Studies

    NPR visits Elmira, New York.

    From the piece…

    Quarry Farm overlooks the dairy country of the Chemung River Valley in the Finger Lakes District of western New York. In his letters, Twain called the Farm “the quietest of all quiet places.” He described the view as “an elevation that commands leagues of valley and city and retreating ranges of distant blue hills.” It was looking at this view that Twain wrote some of the most beloved works in American literature, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Life on the Mississippi and The Prince and the Pauper.

    But when Twain arrived in the sleepy New York town in 1868, he had not yet begun to write novels. He was already the well-known author of a book of travel writing (The Innocents Abroad) and had come to Elmira to court Olivia Langdon, the daughter of the richest man in town. When Twain and Langdon were married in 1870, they settled in Hartford, Conn., with their four children, but Twain continued to do most of his writing when he returned to Elmira to visit family every summer.

    While in Elmira, Twain began writing his great works in a small study — 12 feet across, with eight sides and a large window in each face — built to mimic the pilot house of a riverboat. His tiny writing room was moved from Quarry Farm to the Elmira College campus for preservation in 1952. NPR observed the space with Twain scholar Michael Kiskis. “On this side and the other side, you’ll see these little holes with grates over them,” Kiskis described. “Those are the cat doors. He absolutely loved cats, and their company when he was writing in this building. You probably know he smoked a lot. He averaged between 30 and 40 cigars a day. So you gotta think of smoke, and cats and lots of paper, and breezes coming through.”

    slightly larger picture:


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