Roughing It on the Road

Tired of the demands of touring and happy with his married life with Livy, MT decided after two successful seasons on the lyceum circuit to stay home during 1870-1871. Audiences kept asking him to come back, though, and by the summer of 1871 the expenses of moving to and living in his big new house in Hartford made him decide to go back on tour for 1871-1872. He wrote at least three lectures that summer -- one his agent advertised as "An Appeal in Behalf of the Extended Suffrage to Boys," one mysteriously known only as "D.L.H," and the one he decided in the fall to use: "Reminiscences of Some Pleasant Characters Whom I Have Met."

After only three performances, he threw that script away, pretended a sickness in the family to postpone scheduled talks in Reading and Easton (see below), and wrote a new lecture on Artemus Ward. (Two newspaper transcriptions of this lecture are available below.) MT stuck with that topic for about six weeks, though uneven reviews and his own dissatisfaction led him to keep tinkering with it. All this time Roughing It was very much in his thoughts, first when he had to reconstruct a chapter that had been lost, and then when he began correcting proof. Perhaps he saw it as good advertising, perhaps it was just to get away from Ward, but in early December he decided to write out another lecture, derived from his forthcoming book. This is the way he announced the topic to an audience in Lansing, Michigan:
"Now I have got a book in press (it will be out pretty soon), over 600 octavo pages, and illustrated after the fashion of the Innocents Abroad. Terms -- however I am not around canvassing for the work. I should like to talk a little of that book to you tonight. It is very fresh in my mind, as it is not more than three months since I wrote it. Say 30 or 40 pages -- or if you prefer it the whole 600."
In a sense he was "canvassing." The "Roughing It" lecture proved very popular, and on December 8, MT wrote James Redpath, his booking agent, "Notify all hands that from this time I shall talk nothing but selections from my forthcoming book . . . Tried it last night. Suits me tip top." By going to the TOUR SCHEDULE below, you can follow the tour, and explore both what MT and his audiences (at least as represented by newspaper reviewers) said about each other and, after December 8, about Roughing It.

Two reliable-looking newspaper transcriptions of the talk exist, and are available here too. MT hated reporters who copied his lectures into the newspapers, believing that if prospective audiences read his talk ahead of time, they wouldn't find his live performance entertaining or funny. (Indeed, the stenographer who took down the lecture for the Lansing State Republican [below] quotes MT talking about how much he and Artemus Ward resent having their performances published. MT knew of the Chicago Tribune's publication of his talk, and felt compelled to return to the lecture on Ward until he was out of the Chicago area, but doesn't seem to have discovered the Republican's misbehavior.) But these newspaper transcriptions are in most cases the only access we have to MT's lectures. It's a very imperfect way to "hear" him, since so much of the secret of his humor was in how he used, and paused, his distinctive voice. And much of the cultural meaning of the lectures is lost when we can't see and hear the audience too. At least the first installment of the Tribune's transcription indicates many of the audience's responses -- mostly as "[laughter]."

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