Prelude: The First American Cruise to the Mediterranean

   We usually think of cruising as a relatively recent phenomenon, but in fact the first American pleasure cruise to the Mediterranean came right after the Civil War, in 1867.  Of course, ships were not as fast as they are now & the cruise lasted months longer than ours.  The ship was called the Quaker City and there were 65 passengers who paid $1200 apiece to make the trip (a whole lot of money in those days).  Here is the Quaker City at sea on a not very nice day:

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The trip was something of a sensation in the United States.  A big crowd turned out for its departure and people followed the cruisers’ exploits in the newspapers.  As well they might, since the dispatches were being written by a very young Samuel Clemens writing under his byline of Mark Twain.  After the trip ended Twain compiled and extended his newspaper reports into a book called “The Innocents Abroad,” which was his first best-seller.  Like most of Twain’s works, it makes highly entertaining reading, both funny & enlightening.  Anyone interested in Mediterranean travel, and in how much has (and hasn’t) changed in 150 years, would likely enjoy it.  If you have an ereader, you can download it for free at:    http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/3176.  (A more contemporary, though in my view much less companionable, account of a trip around the Mediterranean – but mostly not by cruise ship – is “The Pillars of Hercules” by Paul Theroux, which is also available as an ebook, but not for free unless you can borrow it from your library.)

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     As Twain explains, this cruise was widely viewed as an exciting new kind of adventure (he makes it sound even more exciting than ours, which seems pretty exciting to us):

     For months the great pleasure excursion to Europe and the Holy Land was chatted about in the newspapers everywhere in America and discussed at countless firesides. It was a novelty in the way of excursions—its like had not been thought of before, and it compelled that interest which attractive novelties always command. It was to be a picnic on a gigantic scale. The participants in it, instead of freighting an ungainly steam ferry-boat with youth and beauty and pies and doughnuts, and paddling up some obscure creek to disembark upon a grassy lawn and wear themselves out with a long summer day’s laborious frolicking under the impression that it was fun, were to sail away in a great steamship with flags flying and cannon pealing, and take a royal holiday beyond the broad ocean in many a strange clime and in many a land renowned in history! They were to sail for months over the breezy Atlantic and the sunny Mediterranean; they were to scamper about the decks by day, filling the ship with shouts and laughter—or read novels and poetry in the shade of the smokestacks, or watch for the jelly-fish and the nautilus over the side, and the shark, the whale, and other strange monsters of the deep; and at night they were to dance in the open air, on the upper deck, in the midst of a ballroom that stretched from horizon to horizon, and was domed by the bending heavens and lighted by no meaner lamps than the stars and the magnificent moon—dance, and promenade, and smoke, and sing, and make love, and search the skies for constellations that never associate with the "Big Dipper" they were so tired of; and they were to see the ships of twenty navies—the customs and costumes of twenty curious peoples—the great cities of half a world—they were to hob-nob with nobility and hold friendly converse with kings and princes, grand moguls, and the anointed lords of mighty empires! It was a brave conception; it was the offspring of a most ingenious brain. It was well advertised, but it hardly needed it: the bold originality, the extraordinary character, the seductive nature, and the vastness of the enterprise provoked comment everywhere and advertised it in every household in the land.

In the conclusion of the book, Twain looks back on the experience and eloquently expresses some of the same reasons that many people today  favor this mode of travel:

      And I will say, here, that I would rather travel with an excursion party of Methuselahs than have to be changing ships and comrades constantly, as people do who travel in the ordinary way. Those latter . . .  have . . . that other misery of packing and unpacking trunks—of running the distressing gauntlet of custom-houses—of the anxieties attendant upon getting a mass of baggage from point to point on land in safety. I had rather sail with a whole brigade of patriarchs than suffer so. We never packed our trunks but twice—when we sailed from New York, and when we returned to it. Whenever we made a land journey, we estimated how many days we should be gone and what amount of clothing we should need, figured it down to a mathematical nicety, packed a valise or two accordingly, and left the trunks on board. We chose our comrades from among our old, tried friends, and started. We were never dependent upon strangers for companionship. We often had occasion to pity Americans whom we found traveling drearily among strangers with no friends to exchange pains and pleasures with. Whenever we were coming back from a land journey, our eyes sought one thing in the distance first—the ship—and when we saw it riding at anchor with the flag apeak, we felt as a returning wanderer feels when he sees his home. When we stepped on board, our cares vanished, our troubles were at an end—for the ship was home to us. We always had the same familiar old state-room to go to, and feel safe and at peace and comfortable again.

I have no fault to find with the manner in which our excursion was conducted. Its programme was faithfully carried out—a thing which surprised me, for great enterprises usually promise vastly more than they perform. It would be well if such an excursion could be gotten up every year and the system regularly inaugurated. Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things can not be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.

Twain also addresses the closest 19th century equivalent to this blogging enterprise — passengers keeping journals of the trip:

     Behind the long dining tables on either side of the saloon, and scattered from one end to the other of the latter, some twenty or thirty gentlemen and ladies sat them down under the swaying lamps and for two or three hours wrote diligently in their journals. Alas! that journals so voluminously begun should come to so lame and impotent a conclusion as most of them did! I doubt if there is a single pilgrim of all that host but can show a hundred fair pages of journal concerning the first twenty days’ voyaging in the Quaker City, and I am morally certain that not ten of the party can show twenty pages of journal for the succeeding twenty thousand miles of voyaging! At certain periods it becomes the dearest ambition of a man to keep a faithful record of his performances in a book; and he dashes at this work with an enthusiasm that imposes on him the notion that keeping a journal is the veriest pastime in the world, and the pleasantest. But if he only lives twenty-one days, he will find out that only those rare natures that are made up of pluck, endurance, devotion to duty for duty’s sake, and invincible determination may hope to venture upon so tremendous an enterprise as the keeping of a journal and not sustain a shameful defeat.

One of our favorite youths, Jack, a splendid young fellow with a head full of good sense, and a pair of legs that were a wonder to look upon in the way of length and straightness and slimness, used to report progress every morning in the most glowing and spirited way, and say: "Oh, I’m coming along bully!" (he was a little given to slang in his happier moods.) "I wrote ten pages in my journal last night—and you know I wrote nine the night before and twelve the night before that. Why, it’s only fun!"   "What do you find to put in it, Jack?"   "Oh, everything. Latitude and longitude, noon every day; and how many miles we made last twenty-four hours; and all the domino games I beat and horse billiards; and whales and sharks and porpoises; and the text of the sermon Sundays (because that’ll tell at home, you know); and the ships we saluted and what nation they were; and which way the wind was, and whether there was a heavy sea, and what sail we carried, though we don’t ever carry any, principally, going against a head wind always—wonder what is the reason of that?—and how many lies Moult has told—Oh, every thing! I’ve got everything down. My father told me to keep that journal. Father wouldn’t take a thousand dollars for it when I get it done."    "No, Jack; it will be worth more than a thousand dollars—when you get it done."  "Do you?—no, but do you think it will, though?  "Yes, it will be worth at least as much as a thousand dollars—when you get it done. May be more."  "Well, I about half think so, myself. It ain’t no slouch of a journal."

But it shortly became a most lamentable "slouch of a journal." One night in Paris, after a hard day’s toil in sightseeing, I said:  "Now I’ll go and stroll around the cafes awhile, Jack, and give you a chance to write up your journal, old fellow."  His countenance lost its fire. He said:  "Well, no, you needn’t mind. I think I won’t run that journal anymore. It is awful tedious. Do you know—I reckon I’m as much as four thousand pages behind hand. I haven’t got any France in it at all. First I thought I’d leave France out and start fresh. But that wouldn’t do, would it? The governor would say, ‘Hello, here—didn’t see anything in France? That cat wouldn’t fight, you know. First I thought I’d copy France out of the guide-book, like old Badger in the for’rard cabin, who’s writing a book, but there’s more than three hundred pages of it. Oh, I don’t think a journal’s any use—do you? They’re only a bother, ain’t they?"

"Yes, a journal that is incomplete isn’t of much use, but a journal properly kept is worth a thousand dollars—when you’ve got it done."  "A thousand!—well, I should think so. I wouldn’t finish it for a million."  His experience was only the experience of the majority of that industrious night school in the cabin. If you wish to inflict a heartless and malignant punishment upon a young person, pledge him to keep a journal a year.

     So Twain was apparently the only one to complete his journal of the cruise, not only because he was a professional writer but because he was financing the trip at least partly through his newspaper accounts of the journey.  Unlike Twain we have no financial incentive to complete this blog, but we expect to do so anyway.  Many entries will be delayed, sometimes substantially (I had hoped to post this entry earlier, but had technical difficulties), because this is a time consuming effort & our port schedule is crowded (sea days are really the only ones in which there is enough time to organize photographs & write blog posts).  There is likely to be a flurry of overdue posts at the end of the trip.  But stay with us; we will complete it, even if we do not finish until after we get home, and the timing really doesn’t affect how much you enjoy the blog postings, does it?  Meanwhile, get a copy of The Innocents Abroad to keep you entertained and on message until our pictures of these places begin to arrive (I am pretty certain that this is the only post that will have so many words & so few pictures).

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One response

  1. Sara Winston

    Looking forward to future posts and thinking about stopping by the library 🙂

    March 26, 2013 at 4:52 pm

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