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Early Travels, 1853-1857

"So far from home"

The printer's apprentice: daguerreotype of Clemens
This daguerreotype is the earliest known image of Clemens, showing him at age fifteen, wearing his printer's cap and holding a printer's composing stick with his name spelled in type. He set the type in the stick in reverse, so that his name would be legible when the daguerreotype process produced a mirror image. Clemens began his training as a printer in 1847, shortly after his father's death.

Clemens left his home and family in Hannibal, Missouri, for the first time in June 1853, at the age of seventeen. He went first to St. Louis, where he found work for a few weeks as a journeyman printer, but by late August he was on the road again, bound for the World's Fair in New York City. He wrote to his mother when he arrived there: "You will doubtless be a little surprised, and somewhat angry when you receive this, and find me so far from home. . . . Well, I was out of work in St. Louis, and didn't fancy loafing in such a dry place, where there is no pleasure to be seen without paying well for it, and so I thought I might as well go to New York. I packed up my 'duds' and left."
The earliest surviving holograph letter from Clemens
New York City, 8 October 1853
New York City and its multifarious population both repelled and fascinated Clemens, and he stayed on week after week. He wrote to his sister, Pamela Moffett: "I have been fooling myself with the idea that I was going to leave New York, every day for the last two weeks. I have taken a liking to the abominable place." He stayed on until late October and then relocated to Philadelphia, again finding work as a typesetter.

Over the next three and a half years, Clemens moved restlessly between New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Muscatine (Iowa), St. Louis, Keokuk (Iowa), and Cincinnati. Finally, he left Cincinnati by steamboat in April 1857, determined to reach New Orleans and from there embark for South America and the Amazon River, to seek his fortune in the coca trade. But when he reached New Orleans, he abandoned this plan and decided instead to pursue a childhood ambition—to apprentice as a Mississippi River steamboat pilot.

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