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Mark Twain, a Biography — Volume I, Part 1: 1835-1866 eBook

Albert Bigelow Paine
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 260 pages of information about Mark Twain, a Biography Volume I, Part 1.

LIII

ANSON BURLINGAME AND THE “HORNET” DISASTER

It was near the end of June when he returned to Honolulu from a tour of all the islands, fairly worn out and prostrated with saddle boils.  He expected only to rest and be quiet for a season, but all unknown to him startling and historic things were taking place in which he was to have a part—­events that would mark another forward stride in his career.

The Ajax had just come in, bringing his Excellency Anson Burlingame, then returning to his post as minister to China; also General Van Valkenburg, minister to Japan; Colonel Rumsey and Minister Burlingame’s son, Edward, —­[Edward L. Burlingame, now for many years editor of Scribner’s Magazine.]—­then a lively boy of eighteen.  Young Burlingame had read “The Jumping Frog,” and was enthusiastic about Mark Twain and his work.  Learning that he was in Honolulu, laid up at his hotel, the party sent word that they would call on him next morning.

Clemens felt that he must not accept this honor, sick or well.  He crawled out of bed, dressed and shaved himself as quickly as possible, and drove to the American minister’s, where the party was staying.  They had a hilariously good time.  When he returned to his hotel he sent them, by request, whatever he had on hand of his work.  General Van Valkenburg had said to him: 

“California is proud of Mark Twain, and some day the American people will be, too, no doubt.”

There has seldom been a more accurate prophecy.

But a still greater event was imminent.  On that very day (June 21, 1866) there came word of the arrival at Sanpahoe, on the island of Hawaii, of an open boat containing fifteen starving wretches, who on short, ten-day rations had been buffeting a stormy sea for forty-three days!  A vessel, the Hornet, from New York, had taken fire and burned “on the line,” and since early in May, on that meager sustenance, they had been battling with hundreds of leagues of adverse billows, seeking for land.

A few days following the first report, eleven of the rescued men were brought to Honolulu and placed in the hospital.  Mark Twain recognized the great news importance of the event.  It would be a splendid beat if he could interview the castaways and be the first to get their story to his paper.  There was no cable in those days; a vessel for San Francisco would sail next morning.  It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and he must not miss it.  Bedridden as he was, the undertaking seemed beyond his strength.

But just at this time the Burlingame party descended on him, and almost before he knew it he was on the way to the hospital on a cot, escorted by the heads of the joint legations of China and Japan.  Once there, Anson Burlingame, with his splendid human sympathy and handsome, courtly presence, drew from those enfeebled castaways all the story of their long privation and struggle, that had stretched across forty-three distempered days and four thousand miles of sea.  All that Mark Twain had to do was to listen and make the notes.

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