|[The following excerpts from newspaper reviews of MT's first lecture tour, through California and the Nevada Territory in 1866, are mainly taken from Frear's Mark Twain and Hawaii, Appendix D3, "Contemporary Newspaper Comments on the Lectures."]|
Western Reviews of "Our Fellow Savages"
The Academy of Music was "stuffed," to use an expression of the lecturer, to repletion last night, on the occasion of the delivery of "Mark Twain's" (Samuel Clemens) lecture on the Sandwich Islands. It is perhaps fortunate that the King of Hawaii did not arrive in time to attend, for unless he had gone early he would have been turned away, as many others were who could not gain admittance.
The appearance of the lecturer was the signal for applause and from the time he commenced until he closed, the greatest good feeling existed. He commenced by apologizing for the absence of an orchestra, he wasn't used to getting up operas of this sort. He had engaged a musician to come and play the trombone, but, after the bargain was closed, the trombone player insisted upon having some other musicians to help him. He had hired the man to work, and wouldn't stand any such nonsense, and so discharged him on the spot.
The lecturer then proceeded with his subject, and delivered one of the most interesting and amusing lectures ever delivered in this city. It was replete with information of that character which is seldom got from books, describing all those minor traits of character, custom and habits which are only noted by a close observer, and yet the kind of information which gives the most correct idea of the people described. Their virtues were set forth generously, while their vices were touched off in a humourous style, which kept the audience in a constant state of merriment. From the lecturer's reputation as a humorist, the audience were unprepared for the eloquent description of the volcano of Kilauea, a really magnificent piece of word-painting, their appreciation of which was shown by long and continued applause. Important facts concerning the resources of the Islands were given, interspersed with pointed anecdotes and side-splitting jokes. Their history, traditions, religions, politics, aristocracy, royalty, manners and customs were all described in brief and in the humorous vein peculiar to the speaker. It would be impossible to do justice to the lecture in a synopsis, and as it will probably be repeated, we shall not attemt it. The lecturer kept his audience constantly interested and amused for an hour and a half, and the lecture was unanimously pronounced a brilliant success. After its close, and the audience had risen to leave he was called out again, and in his funny style apologized for the "infliction," giving as an excuse that he was about writing a book on the Sandwich Islands, and needed funds for its publication.
The lecture was superior to Artemus Ward's "Babes in the Woods" in point of humor. It evinced none of that straining after effect that was manifested by the great showman, and possessed some solid qualities to which Ward can make no pretensions. As a humorous writer Mark Twain stands in the foremost rank, while his effort of last evening affords reason for the belief that he can establish an equal reputation as a humorous and original lecturer.
San Francisco Alta California, 3 October 1866:
At times he would soar to the sublime and his description of the volcano of Kilauea was as graphic and magnificent a piece of word painting as we have listened to for many a day. As an entirety, the lecture was preeminently humorous. There was, however, much information conveyed in this effort which never appeared in any history of the Hawaiian Islands. . . . Mark Twain has thoroughly established himself as the most piquant and humorous writer and lecturer on this coast since the days of the lamented "John Phoenix."
San Francisco News Letter, 6 October 1866:
A rousing audience last Tuesday greeted St. Mark, the missionary, on the occasion of his first appearance on the lyceum stage--we were on the point of saying "on any stage," but having once travelled with him inside of Billy Wilson's from Virginia to Carson, candor compels us to sacrifice effect to accuracy. The Academy was packed from pit to dome, standing room crowded, while a number were unable to obtain admission. The audience embraced "our best people."
We had hoped to secure the lecturer's sermon to prepare our little notice of the occasion, but even his fine sense of humor is surpassed by his acute moral perception, and he declined on the score of unbecomingness to the missionary character--it would savor of the vanity of the flesh! Perhaps nothing in his career gives so vivid an impression of his uncompromising devotion to the principle as the refusal of our munificent proposition for a sonorous blast upon his own trumpet. Justice to ourselves compels us to mention our princely offer, that he should name his own terms. In justice to him we give his noble reply, "I believe it would be wrong, untold gold shall not tempt me." This grand utterance will be handed down to generations yet unborn, stimulating them to virtue, nerving them to resist the seduction of vice. The future school-boy shall learn to associate together these two sublime sentiments--one by the youthful Washington, "Father I cannot tell a lie!" the other by St. Mark, the missionary, "I believe it is wrong; gold cannot tempt me! . . . Pax tuiscum, sancto Marcus, missionarius."
We regret to notice one serious fault--it was too short. It was exceedingly good what there was of it. In fact it could not well have been better, but its delivery occupied only an hour and fifteen minuters, while it appeared to the audience fifteen minutes without the hour. . . . If the missionary would appropriate half a column of any one of the recent Alta's editorials upon the Hawaiian question, and judiciously interpolate it about the middle of his lecture it would rest the attention of the audience, and, while really not occupying five minutes in delivery, would effectively remove the impression of brevity. But really the lecture was "tip top," . . . interesting, instructive, . . . delivery happy, success complete.
San Francisco Golden Era, 7 October 1866:
MARK TWAIN--We regard this subject with mingled admiration and awe, and approach him with hesitation. Nature must have been in one of her funniest moods when she fashioned this mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous. The house was crowded when the festive juvenile sauntered bashfully, hand in pocket and mouth too full for utterance, to the position which he will grace till time interposes his restraining protest across the path of the successful humorist. Never did aspirant for public favor take more rapid stride than did the future historian of the Sandwich Islands on that momentous evening. Quote Artemus Ward no more; our Pacific slopes can discount him. True, he displayed not the polish of the finished lecturer--nor did he need it; the crude, quaint delivery was infinitely preferable. In original humor and the way of putting it, Artemus can hide his diminished Luminary under several bushels; he is as a penn'orth of tallow to a mammoth circus chandelier. It was a clever interruption of Twain's--that of apology. He wished to write a history of Kanakadom and needed the wherewithal. He did not state, however, the number of volumes required. Several, we hope, and a lecture to a volume.
Sacramento Daily Union, 12 October 1866:
The lecturer entertained the audience for about an hour, discoursing in an easy colloquial style, . . . seasoning a large dish of information with spicy anecdotes, depicting the lights and shades of Kanaka society with a freedom, vividness and humor quite delightful, rendering a just tribute to the laborious missionaries, . . . and sketching the magnificent scenery of the volcanic mountains with peculiar force.
Sacramento Bee, 12 October 1866:
Mark--His Mission--Mark--not the apostle, but other of the twain, the missionary--made his advent . . . last evening. . . . Mark has been on a mission to the Sandwich Islands, and returning has rendered an account of his stewardship. . . . Mark was in good trim. Instead of having been made a meal of by the cannibals, . . . he came back to us in the flesh. . . . It was pleasant to listen to a lecturer who felt so well and talked so wisely, mixing (so to speak) as with a blender the pathetic with the humorous. There was more, however, of the humorous than the pathetic, and the transitions were so sudden that before a tear had time to gather head enough to fall, the laughing came in. Occasionally it was just the other way--the tears came from the overflow of laughter.
Virginia City Daily Territorial Enterprise,
30 October 1866 [the day before the lecture]:
The enthusiasm with which his lecture was everywhere greeted is still ringing throughout California, and now that his foot is in his native heath we expect to see the very mountains shake with a tempest of approval.
1 November 1866 [the day after the lecture]:
An immense success. One of the largest and most fashionable audiences that ever graced the Opera House, . . . all of the available seats and standing room were occupied. It was a magnificent tribute to the lecturer from his old friends. . . . Combining the most valuable and statistical and general information with passages of drollest humor--all delivered in the peculiar and inimitable style of the author--and rising occasionally to lofty flights of descriptive eloquence--the lecture constitutes an entertainment of rare excellence and interest.
San Francisco Evening-Bulletin, 17 November 1866:
MARK TWAIN'S LECTURE.--The second lecture of "Mark Twain" upon the Sandwich Islands attracted a large audience to Platt's Hall last evening, and was warmly applauded. It was not equal to his first effort, having less coherence and finish, and being marred in its artistic effect by several irrelevancies pardonable only to a popular humorist talking among his neighbors. But it had some of Mark's best traits--audacious humor, sometimes verging on coarseness, alternating with sound practical suggestions and fine description. The passage concerning the sugar plantations, and the wonderful increase of the sugar product in the last four years, was full of interest, and the facts stated compelled belief in the prediction that under American sway the Sandwich Islands will ultimately supply one-third of the sugar consumed by the whole world. An average yield is 4,000 to 6,000 pounds per acre; whereas in Louisiana 2,000 pounds per acre is phenomenal.
Mark believes it is the destiny of the Americans, who have civilized and Christianized the Islands, to ultimately own them. The native population has diminished in a few years from 200,000 to 50,000, and there are now three deaths among it to one birth; while the American population is vigorous and increasing. The lecturer gave a sharply satirical account of the unsuccessful attempt of Bishop Staley to establish a State Church in the Islands, and through its instrumentality to supplant the American Missionary influence in the interest of British dominion. He advised the Bishop to go back to England and labor for the improvement of the degraded and unfortunate among his own people, among whom, he asserted, there is more ignorance, want and vice than among the Kanakas. The lecturer extolled the climate of the Islands, which he described as varying according to the altitude, but being constant within certain belts of elevation, and he raised an immense shout of laughter by saying that at one point the weather has been so hot that even greenbacks rose to 126 in the shade. His account of the acclimatizing "boohoo fever," was amusing and satirical, and he was almost savagely funny at the expense of the growling invalids who invade the islands from all parts of the world.
His lecture concluded with a laughable account of his "robbery" on the Divide between Gold Hill and Virginia. He thought the robbers were not "on the divide" at all, but hoggishly took everything themselves. One lady in the audience was overheard to account to her companion for Mark's confessed fright on the occasion of his adventure with the "road agents" by saying that she supposed he had never been robbed before. After dismissing his audience, Mark recalled them to hear the single original joke perpetrated in the Sandwich Islands, which was in the nature of a conundrum. He was asked what injunction of scripture should be repeated to him if he were urged to walk a mile with a friend, and was told: "If thy friend ask thee to go one mile, go Twain." And with this joke the audience departed laughing. "Mark Twain" departs for the East on Monday to attend to the publication of a book on the Sandwich Islands, and probably to try lecturing in a wider field. He will have the good wishes of a host of friends and admirers in California and Nevada, and if considerate enough for the social and aesthetic differences between this side of the continent and the other the author will achieve a gratifying success.
San Jose Mercury, 26 November 1866:
We have been an admirer of the inimitable humor of the lecturer, as shown in his numerous letters and sketches, that have been so widely published, but confess that the lecture disappointed us. We expected to hear the Kanakas "Joked blind," but had no idea of being treated to such an intellectual feast as he served up to his audience. We never heard or read anything half so beautiful as his description when he laid aside the role of the humorist and gave rein to his fancy. To use the expression of a rapt listener to the lecture, "He's lightenin'."
San Francisco Evening-Bulletin, 28 November 1866:
Oakland Items.--Mark Twain delivered his lecture as announced, last evening, at the College Hall. There were not as many present as was expected, in consequence of some misunderstanding about the time and place of the lecture, definite notice of the fact having only been made late in the day. As it was, about 200 ladies and gentlemen were present, whom Mark kept in good humor for an hour and a half. The only remarkable feature about the matter was the sudden illness produced by the appearance of Mark's hand-bills on the members of the City Council--they were to meet last evening--and their equally sudden convalescence about 8 o'clock P.M. Nearly the whole Council were to be seen at the lecture, apparently in the enjoyment of their usual good health.
Petaluma Journal and Argus, 29 November 1866:
|[According to Frear, the real basis for this critique was that no advertising was bought from the paper and no complimentary tickets sent to its editor. Frear sets it off in Appendix D4 as the most negative review MT received on his first lecture tour.]|
Reprehensible--The gentleman who enjoys a wide celebrity on this coast as a spicy writer, over the "nom de plume" of "Mark Twain" delivered his lecture on the "Sandwich Islands," in this city on Monday evening last. While we accord to him the merit of being a spicy writer, candor compels us to say that as a lecturer he is not a success. We say this with no desire to be captious, but simply because it is literally true. As a newspaper correspondent Mark Twain is a racy and humorous writer, but as a lecturer he falls below mediocrity. In this connection we think it is not inapproriate to address ourself to the editorial fraternity on this Coast, and to our San Francisco contemporaries in particular, in relation to the reprehensible practice of disguising the truth in reference to the qualifications and ability of persons who sell their talents for a valuable consideration, and too frequently "sell" those who go to hear them, innocently expecting to be instructed or amused.
San Francisco Times, 11 December 1866:
The genial lecturer entertained his audience with a mingling of fact, fun, and fancy, which was as delightful as it was instructive. Probably never before was so much actual information imparted in such an agreeable manner as in Mark's lecture, which might be called the sugar-coated pill of traveler's lore. This popular lecturer has struck a new lead in the vast field of literary research, and his multitudinous friends will all hope that his "prospects" will "pan out" rich.
San Francisco Alta California, 11 December 1866:
A highly intelligent and appreciative audience . . . assembled last night . . . to hear the last public lecture of Mark Twain, prior to his departure for "missionary labor" in other climes. The subject of the lecture and the droll humor of the lecturer have been so frequently commented on that further mention on those heads is, at present, needless. In every respect, whether in regard to the subject matter of the lecture, manner of delivery, and amendment of some blemishes apparent on the first occasion, the lecture was a decided success.
San Francisco Evening-Bulletin, 11 December 1866:
MARK TWAIN'S LECTURE.--The farewell lecture by Mark Twain last evening at Congress Hall, drew together a large audience and was a success every way. There were facts and fancies, fun and argument, and altogether the literary entertainment was one of the best of the season. The lecturer departs with a brilliant reputation in the line of his profession, which he has the ability to increase in the Atlantic States. Men of this sort of ability never overstock the market, and Mark will find room for an honorable career in the field to which he is going.