Twain’s Champaign Lecture of 1871

Twain was well-known as a humorous lecturer by 1871 when he visited Champaign on a western tour (having specified that he would go no farther west than St. Louis). Lectures were a popular public entertainment and Barrett Hall, at the corner of Main and Neil Streets in Champaign, may have been Champaign's first opera house, with a large space on the third floor to host such events. The Champaign Library Association brought many speakers to town, including Frederick Douglass, but Twain was booked by the Young Men's Social Club. An item in the Champaign Gazette announced the talk:  (Click here for a text version.)

Champaign Gazette clipping 1871

Champaign made an impression on Twain, but unfortunately not a good one, though perhaps it can be blamed more on his accommodation* than the town itself. Below is the text of the letter Twain wrote from Champaign to his beloved wife, Olivia, which also reveals his discontent with the Chicago Tribune's spoiler printing of his lecture text:

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Livy Darling, it is almost lecture time, & I thought I would rattle off a line to tell you how dearly I love you, child -- for I cannot abide this execrable hotel & shall leave for Tuscola after the lecture & see if I can't do better. My new lecture is about licked into shape, & this afternoon; after trimming at it all afternoon I memorized one-fourth of it. Shall commit another fourth tomorrow, maybe more -- & shall begin talking it the moment I get out of the range of the cursed Chicago Tribune that printed my new lecture & so made it impossible for me to talk it with any spirit in Illinois. If these devils incarnate only appreciated what suffering they inflict with their infernal synopses, maybe they would try to have humanity enough to refrain....

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*Twain stayed at the Doane House, which stood at the end of Champaign's Main Street, just east of the Illinois Central tracks, and was destroyed by fire in 1898.

Source: The Mark Twain Project, Letters