Traveling with Twain

In Search of America's Identity

Washington, D.C.

Mark Twain, an 18-year-old Philadelphia printer, vacationed for about four days in February 1854 in Washington, D.C. He was not impressed by the weather, a snowstorm, or the seat of government. In a letter to the Hannibal Journal, he skewered the out-of-place buildings (“like so many palaces in a Hottentot village”) and lackluster Senate (“Its halls no longer echo the words of a Clay, or Webster, or Calhoun…the void is felt”). He returned to Washington in 1867 as private secretary to Nevada’s Senator W. M. Stewart and later made capital politics the target of “My late Senatorial Secretaryship,” “The Facts in the Case of the Great Beef Contract” and other satirical pieces. He sat for a striking Matthew Brady photo in Washington in July 1870. Later he testified before Congress on copyright reform and lobbied repeatedly against the cruel treatment and mass murder of Congo citizens (the Congo government felt it had to respond with a pamphlet, An Answer to Mark Twain).

October 29-November 1

Posts from Washington, D.C.

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson defines the four classes of black America

Eugene Robinson spoke to us in his office at the Washington Post, where he’s a Pulitzer-prize winning columnist. On one of many book-lined shelves in his office, there’s a piece of paper stuffed among coffee mugs, … Read more >>

Reminiscing with a former Southbridge (and current New York Times) reporter after a decade

Raymond Hernandez, 45, and I reminisced over coffee at a Starbucks in Chevy Chase, Md., about a career that has taken him from cub reporter for a 6,000-circulation, Massachusetts-mill-town daily to Washington-based investigative reporter for The … Read more >>