Do you know… about Mark Twain’s 8 trips to Bermuda and a cat called To-be-or-not-to-be-that-is-the-question-Jackson?

By Horst Augustinovic

Mark Twain’s first trip to Bermuda in 1867 was almost accidental as it came as a 4-day stop-over at the end of a 5-month excursion to the Holy Land on the steamer Quaker City. In Innocents Abroad, the book Mark Twain wrote about the trip, he described his first encounter with Bermuda as such: “Days passed—and nights; and then the beautiful Bermudas rose out of the sea, we entered the tortuous channel, steamed hither and thither among the bright summer islands, and rested at last under the flag of England and were welcome. We were not a nightmare here, where were civilization and intelligence in place of Spanish and Italian superstition, dirt and dread of cholera. A few days among the breezy groves, the flower gardens, the coral caves, and the lovely vistas of blue water that went curving in and out, disappearing and anon again appearing through jungle walls of brilliant foliage, restored the energies dulled by long drowsing on the ocean, and fitted us for our final cruise—our little run of a thousand miles to New York—America—HOME.”

Our Friends, The Bermudians

An illustration from ‘Innocents Abroad.’

It was ten years before Mark Twain returned to Bermuda, this time with his friend the Reverend Joseph Twichell on the steamer Bermuda. They arrived incognito, their names even misspelled on the passenger list. In Rambling Notes of an Idle Excursion, Mark Twain describes their arrival: “We went ashore and found a novelty of a pleasing nature; there were no hackmen, hacks or omnibuses on the pier or about it anywhere, and nobody offered his services to us, or molested us in any way. I said it was like being in heaven.”

Having planned to stay at the Hamilton Hotel, which unfortunately had just closed at the end of the winter season, they decided to stay at Mrs. Kirkham’s Private Boarding House on Cedar Avenue. During the afternoon they began exploring the outskirts of Hamilton on foot and, stopping at a cottage to get a drink of water, they were asked us to sit down and rest. The conversation soon turned to the neighbourhood cats and Mark Twain and the Reverend Joseph Twichell realized that Bermudian cats came with some rather fancy names. One was called ‘Hector G. Yelverton,’ another ‘Sir John Baldwin.’ Deacon Jackson’s cat was ‘Hold-The-Fort-For-I-Am-Coming Jackson’, or perhaps it was ‘To-be-or-not-to-be-that-is-the-question-Jackson.’ Mark Twain used both in Rambling Notes of an Idle Excursion which appeared in four installments in the Atlantic Monthly, greatly increasing Bermuda’s popularity as a travel destination.

It would be 30 years before Mark Twain returned to Bermuda for a three day visit in 1907, again with the Reverend Joseph Twichell. Unfortunately things were not as idyllic as in 1877 and as soon as getting back to New York, he booked another trip to Bermuda – minus his friend. Returning again in 1908, he dined with Woodrow Wilson and his friend Mary Peck.

Mark Twain

Mark Twain in Bermuda in 1908.

Mark Twain felt that Bermuda was rejuvenating his health and was sorry that his dead wife Livy never had the opportunity to share Bermuda with him. He wrote, “It grieves me, and I feel reproached, that I allowed the physicians to send Mrs. Clemens on a horrible ten-day sea journey to Italy when Bermuda was right here at hand and worth a hundred Italies.”

Another trip to Bermuda followed, this time for 47 days. Accompanied by his secretary Isabel Lyon and Elizabeth Wallace, dean at the University of Chicago with whom he formed a friendship during an earlier Bermuda trip. Socializing with Mrs. Peck, it is interesting that Isabel Lyon referred to her as ‘a snare for men folk’ and Elizabeth Wallace saw in her ‘a little restless look of unfulfilment about her eyes and mouth that gave grounds for romantic speculation.’

In November 1909 Mark Twain returned to Bermuda for twenty-six days but unfortunately his health began to decline. Returning to New York after the sudden death of his daughter Jean on Christmas Eve, he once again sought solace in Bermuda. This final trip lasted ninety-five days and he died just 10 days after returning home. Altogether Mark Twain spent 187 days in Bermuda.

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