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October 25, 2019

Exhibition Opening: “Mark Twain and the Holy”

On display until February 2, 2020

The Shapell Manuscript Foundation and the New-York Historical Society celebrates the 150th anniversary of one of the best-selling travelogues of all time with a new exhibition in New York, Mark Twain and the Holy Land, on view October 25, 2019 – February 2, 2020. This exhibition traces the legendary American humorist’s 1867 voyage to the Mediterranean and his subsequent 1869 book—The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims’ Progress—through original documents, photographs, artwork, and costumes, as well as an interactive media experience.

In 1867, Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910)—known professionally as Mark Twain—departed New York harbor on the steamship Quaker City for a five-and-a-half-month excursion, with stops in Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Holy Land. Known at that point for his biting satire and humorous short pieces on California and the West, Clemens had serendipitously discovered a “pleasure cruise” to Europe and the Near East, and successfully inveigled his way onto the journey with an assignment from the San Francisco newspaper Alta California. Twain was to supply the paper with weekly columns about the trip and his fellow passengers. When he returned to New York and then to Washington, D.C., he began reshaping those columns and other notes made during the trip into a book, The Innocents Abroad (1869). It was this work that catapulted Twain to national fame, selling more copies during his lifetime than any other book he ever wrote.

Benjamin Shapell, President of the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, remarked that “musing about the voyage in a passage later published in Innocents Abroad, Twain so aptly noted: ‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindednes.’ That his travelogue espoused such a liberal sentiment while at the very same time also exposing the deep closed-mindedness of his fellow shipmates is the very reason why Twain’s biting perspective comes across as so fresh to us even today. We are pleased that the New-York Historical Society has brought together these rare manuscripts and artifacts, bringing Twain’s lively, influential, and singular experience to life.”

It took Mark Twain and his publisher a good two years to bring Innocents to fruition in 1869, but once in print, its success was immediate. Twain’s scabrous humor found an eager and receptive audience, well documented in contemporary reviews on display in the show. Innocents undoubtedly contributed to the vogue for traveling to the Holy Land, and the exhibit features letters by such notables as President Ulysses Grant, Gen. William T. Sherman, and Theodore Roosevelt, each of whom journeyed to Palestine. 

Mark Twain and the Holy Land introduces visitors both to a young Mark Twain on the eve of celebrity and to Palestine in the 19th century, captured by artists, writers, and photographers.

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