by Barbara Schmidt

A History of and Guide to

Gabriel Wells Definitive Edition
Volumes 20 and 21: Following the Equator

Appreciation and Introduction

Following the Equator comprises Volumes 20 and 21 of the Gabriel Wells Definitive Edition of Mark Twain's works. The Appreciation was written by William McFee.

William McFee (b. 1881 - d. 1966)

William McFee was born at sea enroute to England from India, the son of a ship designer. Five of his uncles were sea captains. McFee grew up in England and attended Culford school in Suffolk and later Northampton Institute. In 1906 he went to sea as a marine engineer. McFee spent his spare time on board ships reading and writing. His first book Letters from an Ocean Tramp was published in 1908. In 1911 McFee relocated to the United States determined to focus on a literary career where he achieved success as a writer of novels, short stories and essays. When World War I broke out, McFee served in the British Royal Naval Reserve as an engineer. After the war, he worked at sea as an engineer for the United Fruit Company; In 1922 he published Command which related stories about the submarine infested Mediterranean Sea.

McFee was a noted book reviewer for The New York Times. He received an honorary MA from Yale University in 1936 and was elected to National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1941. At the time of his death he had authored more than twenty books about life on the sea..


THE conclusion of the enterprise recorded in this book was an event of more than ordinary importance in Mark Twain's career. It is, indeed, for some of us, one of those shining moments in the history of our race which are the despair of the professional pessimist. For Mark Twain, after finding himself, at the age of sixty, a bankrupt and in debt to the amount of over seventy thousand dollars, in two years had paid off his creditors and started, with undiminished courage and good humor, to build up his fortunes once more. The admiration which such an achievement inspires has its source very far down in the roots of our common humanity. It is of the heart, not of the head. But while we may admit that it has nothing immediately to do with art and literature, it has a great deal to do with character; and character inevitably reacts upon the work of its owner. This is particularly true of Mark Twain. Most completely in his case the man was the style incarnate. Under the velvety softness of contour one discovered the rugged and iron-hard structure of principle, and behind the elvish humor that set nations rocking with laughter was concealed a perfect genius for indignation.

It may be doubted if there ever was a happier pilgrim than Mark Twain on this journey he calls "Following the Equator." He was not only sending back money to pay his debts at the rate of a thousand dollars a week, and receiving the attention and enthusiasm of all the five nations in the seven seas, but in addition to this he was gratifying his passion for studying the history and habits of humankind. It is too often overlooked that Mark Twain had many of the predilections of the scholar. It is, indeed, legitimate to imagine the same remarkable temperament brought to maturity in the shadow, let us say, of Oxford or Edinburgh, instead of in the pilot house of a Mississippi steamboat and in Nevada mining claims. No one can read Following the Equator without being struck by the fascination exercised upon the author by the great problems of racial and religious origin. And one has only to think (at once) of Professor Saintsbury, for example, to comprehend how much scholarship gains by the introduction of a cleansing and antiseptic humor. There are many indications in Mark Twain's life that his mind would have sought, in an older and more settled community, the cultural achievements that accompany and derive from academical leisure. And in this book are to be found chapters which are valuable contributions to a critical modern history. There is a world of significance in his remark, when the lieutenant-governor at Lahore lent him an elephant, that he liked the elephant as a vehicle because "one can look in at the windows and see what is going on privately among the family." And this human and insatiable curiosity ranks him with those who engage our affections while they entertain us with their acute perception of the human comedy -- ranks him with Chaucer and Cervantes, with Rabelais and Dickens. As he followed the Equator he was a true citizen of the world, observing with shrewd insight and inimitable simplicity. And while to those of us who devoured his books in our childhood he may be too near and dear to appraise with cold exactitude, yet of him may be said, as did Doctor Johnson of that other "citizen" -- that his passing did in very truth "eclipse the gaiety of the nations."

McFee signature




THE publishing house of Charles L. Webster & Co., of which Mark Twain was the chief financial partner, was forced to assign and close its doors in April, 1894. Bitter financial stress was upon the land, and the firm was unable to resume business. Mark Twain found himself, in his fifty-ninth year, a bankrupt, with a burden of nearly one hundred thousand dollars of debt. He made an official settlement with his creditors for fifty cents on the dollar.

"But," he said, "give me time and I will pay the rest of it. I want to die a free man."

Only a few-those who knew him most intimately -- believed that he would ever be able to square accounts. Not one in a hundred of the men who have failed at that time of life have been able to get on a financial footing again.

He had no very definite plans in the beginning beyond the determination to work steadily at the trade of authorship. There was, indeed, a hope at this time that a typesetting machine in which he had invested a large sum would yield generous returns, but this hope vanished by the end of the year. Clemens realized that the situation required heroic treatment. Earlier in his life he had more than once supplied himself with needed funds on the lecture platform. He hated travel now, and he positively loathed the platform, yet he made up his mind that his desperate case required even this remedy. He resolved to undertake nothing short of a reading-tour around the world. Furthermore, he would write a book of his travels.

He arranged with Major J. B. Pond to conduct him as far as the Pacific coast, and with R. S. Smythe, of Australia, to look after him through the East. With his wife and his daughter Clara he set out from Elmira, New York, his summer home, July 14, 1895. His other two daughters -- the eldest, Susy, and the youngest, Jean -- remained with their aunt, a sister of Mrs. Clemens, at Quarry Farm.

Mark Twain's tour of the world was a continuous ovation. No private American citizen-indeed, no American citizen of any class, except General Grant, when he made his tour of the globe in 1879 -- was ever so lavishly honored. Wherever he traveled he was received with royal attentions. Furthermore, he read or spoke to packed houses, and his returns were large. Every week or two he sent substantial drafts to his New York agents, to apply upon his debts. His program of travel, by the way of Australia, New Zealand, Ceylon, India, and South Africa, brought him to England at the end of July, 1896. There he decided to spend the winter and finish his book. With the money already earned, and the material accumulated for literary work, he hoped that his financial problems were on the way to solution. A few days later he received the news by cable that his oldest daughter, Susy, was dead.

It was one of the dramatic tragedies that followed Mark Twain to the end of his days. Those who think of him only as a creator of mirth may consider also how dark, sometimes, was the background of his humor.

Clemens collected his remaining family in London, and during that winter and the following spring wrote his book -- one of the finest books of travel ever written. Though it has not the spontaneity, the youth and freshness, of the Innocents, or the cynicism and burlesque of the Tramp Abroad, it has what is not less valuable; extensive information, gentleness, serenity, with delightful description and humor. It was rather a curious idea of Mark Twain's to introduce Pudd'nhead Wilson into this book of travel. The Pudd'nhead form of philosophy appealed to him in his later years, and he was always creating aphorisms which to those who knew Mark Twain seemed as very bits of himself. He chose to head each chapter of his travel book with one of those maxims, and they do not seem out of place here. In fact, they appear to be, as in the Pudd'nhead history, part and parcel of the story -- headlights of the chapters that follow them. If all of Mark Twain's other work should be swept away, the maxims of Pudd'nhead Wilson would still hold a place for him as a philosopher and humorist of the first rank.

Following the Equator was published by the American Publishing Company as a subscription book in 1897, and from its royalty returns and from the profits of his reading-tour, carefully invested, he was able, by the end of January, 1898 (he was then in Vienna), to pay his indebtedness in full, as he had promised. To his friend, William Dean Howells, he wrote:

We've lived close to the bone and saved every cent we could, and there's no undisputed claim now that we can't cash.

At the time of his failure he had given himself five years to wipe out his heavy obligation. He had done better than this by a year. The world heralded his achievement as a splendid triumph, and when he returned to America in the autumn of 1900 his country welcomed him as a conqueror.


Dividing the Work

The Gabriel Wells Definitive Edition of Following the Equator is divided into two volumes. The pattern of division is the same as was utilized in the 1899 uniform edition of the work from American Publishing Company. Volume 20, which is part one of Following the Equator ends with Chapter 36. Volume 21 begins with new chapter numbering and what was once Chapter 37 from the first American edition published in 1897 is Chapter 1 of Gabriel Wells Volume 21.

Illustration List for Volume 20

The Gabriel Wells Definitive Edition of Following the Equator features the same illustrations from the 1897 first edition that were also featured in the 1899 uniform editions from American Publishing Company.

Illustration List for Volume 21

Full Text Online Availability Via Archive.Org
Volume 20
Volume 21




"Books: William McFee," Time Magazine, 25 June 1923. Accessed 19 June 2011.

"Finding Aid for the William McFee Papers, ca. 1927-1942." Accessed 19 June 2011.

"William M'Fee, Author, 85, Dies," The New York Times, 4 July 1966, p. 15.

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