The Traveler

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Though little known today...

Massachusetts native “General” Daniel Pratt, Jr. (1809 -1887) was one of the most famous itinerant orators, debater, lecturer, gadfly, statesman, author, editor, performance artist, perennial presidential candidate, and poet of his time. 

He was also a true-blue, down and dirty, bark at the moon, genuinely spellbinding Firecracker.

Widely revered as “The Great American Traveler”, Pratt started out in life as a carpenter but quickly turned to a higher calling: “freelance lecturing”.

Holding forth on such varied topics as “The Harmony of the Human Mind”, “Mark the March of Intellectual Developments of Mind”, and “The Vocabulaboratory of the World’s History”, he claimed to have walked over 200,000 miles across the country to speak at college campuses, town halls, churches, religious ceremonies, government meetings, women's suffrage conventions... basically, anywhere he could find a willing audience.

Or an unwilling audience.

According to the Lewiston Maine Evening Journal, Pratt “probably dodged more missiles, in the shape of fruit, than any other man who ever lectured for money.”

In his 1924 book Memoirs of an Editor: Fifty Years of American Journalism, Edward P. Mitchell observed at one of Pratt’s speeches that his “remarks were written in two-inch-caliber chirography on the reverse of a roll of wall-paper, which the orator unwrapped as he proceeded until he was almost lost to view in the billows of white. Once an unprincipled sophomore crept up behind him and touched a lighted match to the manuscript. For a moment the perpetual candidate resembled a plate in Fox’s ‘Book of Martyrs’; but without the slightest change of expression he trampled out the flaming ‘Vocabulary Laboratory’ and went on calmly.”

Students, particularly, loved Pratt in all his eccentric glory, and crammed lecture halls up and down the east coast to hear him speak. In 1882, MIT’s student newspaper The Tech offered up this assessment of Pratt’s particular genius:

“We take pleasure in giving publicity to the next great work of Gen. Daniel Pratt, the travelling encyclopedia and universal genius, the library of facts, the original oratorical author, the great favorite of the students of all the colleges, the greatest pedestrian in the world; been talked of for the mayoralty, the governor, member of Congress, and the President of the United States for the last twenty years; the general of generalities, the harmonizer of the laws of the solar system, the only value of knowledge and wealth of the universe of worlds, non terra sed cosmos.”

Pratt died in Boston on June 21st, 1887, at the age of 78. In a fitting sendoff, the New York Times opined “End of a Wanderer’s Life – ‘The Great American Traveler’ Makes his Last Trip”.