We have spent five glorious months together, exploring and traveling the Europe and Holy Land of 1867. We had the most wonderful time! Twain had me laughing out loud quite frequently. I sure am going to miss his humor.
I have just finished reading THE INNOCENTS ABROAD, apparently his first book, whereby he shares the stories of a "pleasure excursion " he took on the ship, The Quaker City. He is hilarious and sometimes mildly offensive, though he always wins you back. And I do not mean mildly offensive in the modern way....but in a way that says things you know people think, but really shouldn't say. :)
Here is an example:
"It was breezy and pleasant, but the sea was still very rough. One could not promenade without risking his neck; at one moment the bowsprit was taking a deadly aim at the sun in midheaven, and at the next it was trying to harpoon a shark in the bottom of the ocean. What a weird sensation it is to feel the stem of a ship sinking swiftly from under you and see the bow climbing high away among the clouds! One's safest course that day was to clasp a railing and hang on; walking was too precarious a pastime.
By some happy fortune I was not seasick. --That was a thing to be proud of. I had not always escaped before. If there is one thing in the world that will make a man peculiarly and insufferably self-conceited, it is to have his stomach behave itself, the first day it sea, when nearly all his comrades are seasick. Soon a venerable fossil, shawled to the chin and bandaged like a mummy, appeared at the door of the after deck-house, and the next lurch of the ship shot him into my arms. I said:
"Good-morning, Sir. It is a fine day."
He put his hand on his stomach and said, "Oh, my!" and then staggered away and fell over the coop of a skylight.
Presently another old gentleman was projected from the same door with great violence. I said:
"Calm yourself, Sir--There is no hurry. It is a fine day, Sir."
He, also, put his hand on his stomach and said "Oh, my!" and reeled away.
In a little while another veteran was discharged abruptly from the same door, clawing at the air for a saving support. I said:
"Good morning, Sir. It is a fine day for pleasuring. You were about to say--"
I thought so. I anticipated him, anyhow. I stayed there and was bombarded with old gentlemen for an hour, perhaps; and all I got out of any of them was "Oh, my!"
I went away then in a thoughtful mood. I said, this is a good pleasure excursion. I like it. The passengers are not garrulous, but still they are sociable. I like those old people, but somehow they all seem to have the "Oh, my" rather bad.
I knew what was the matter with them. They were seasick. And I was glad of it. We all like to see people seasick when we are not, ourselves. Playing whist by the cabin lamps when it is storming outside is pleasant; walking the quarterdeck in the moonlight is pleasant; smoking in the breezy foretop is pleasant when one is not afraid to go up there; but these are all feeble and commonplace compared with the joy of seeing people suffering the miseries of seasickness."
I got to thinking about this book because my son Matthew was in Switzerland for a year.....and one day while we chatted on Skype.......he had me surfing websites to see the "big church" in Milan...and I found a quote from Mark Twain on the webpage.....and Matthew says:
"That Mark Twain has been following me all over Europe......wherever I go....I find he is there, too."
So, I immediately order the volume from my library, the library we were still praying would not close. I was not sorry. In fact, the time I spent with Twain on this journey will be counted among some of the happiest memories of my life.
I had SO MANY quotes to share from our trip........but before I can remember one.....another comes and takes its place!
Here is an excerpt I shared with my ballroom-dance-loving kids:
"On several starlight nights we danced on the upper deck, under the awnings, and made something of a ball-room display of brilliancy by hanging a number of ship's lanterns to the stanchions. Our music consisted of the well-mixed strains of a melodeon which was a little asthmatic and apt to catch its breath where it ought to come out strong, a clarinet which was a little unreliable on the high keys and rather melancholy on the low ones, and a disreputable accordion that had a leak somewhere and breathed louder than it squawked--a more elegant term does not occur to me just now. However, the dancing was infinitely worse than the music. When the ship rolled to starboard the whole platoon of dancers came charging down to starboard with it, and brought up in mass at the rail; and when it rolled to port they went floundering down to port with the same unanimity of sentiment. Waltzers spun around precariously for a matter of fifteen seconds and then went scurrying down to the rail as if they meant to go overboard. The Virginia reel, as performed on board the Quaker City, had more genuine reel about it than any reel I ever saw before, and was as full of interest to the spectator as it was full of desperate chances and hairbreadth escapes to the participant. We gave up dancing, finally."
My kids began to roll their eyes every time I called all of them into a room and they spotted the big blue book in my hands. I think it made them a bit crazy......but I am pretty sure they loved the slices of humor I shared with them. At least I will keep telling myself that.
Near the end of our travels, he shared a story about some time that he spent in the "worst" hotel in America.......comparing it to the worst hotel he stayed in on his European travels (that one was in Egypt). I read this aloud to my hotel manager husband and he was quite amused. So were my literature-loving girls.
"Alexandria was too much like a European city to be novel, and we soon tired of it. We took the cars and came up here to ancient Cairo, which is an Oriental city and of the completest pattern. There is little about it to disabuse one's mind of the error if he should take it into his head that he was in the heart of Arabia. Stately camels and dromedaries, swarthy Egyptians, and likewise Turks and black Ethiopians, turbaned, sashed, and blazing in a rich variety of Oriental costumes of all shades of flashy colors, are what one sees on every hand crowding the narrow streets and the honeycombed bazaars. We are stopping at Shepherd's Hotel, which is the worst on earth except the one I stopped at once in a small town in the United States. It is pleasant to read this sketch in my note-book, now, and know that I can stand Shepherd's Hotel, sure, because I have been in one just like it in America and survived:
I stopped at the Benton House. It used to be a good hotel, but that proves nothing--I used to be a good boy, for that matter. Both of us have lost character of late years. The Benton is not a good hotel. The Benton lacks a very great deal of being a good hotel. Perdition is full of better hotels than the Benton.
It was late at night when I got there, and I told the clerk I would like plenty of lights, because I wanted to read an hour or two. When I reached No. 15 with the porter (we came along a dim hall that was clad in ancient carpeting, faded, worn out in many places, and patched with old scraps of oil cloth--a hall that sank under one's feet, and creaked dismally to every footstep,) he struck a light-- two inches of sallow, sorrowful, consumptive tallow candle, that burned blue, and sputtered, and got discouraged and went out. The porter lit it again, and I asked if that was all the light the clerk sent. He said, "Oh no, I've got another one here," and he produced another couple of inches of tallow candle. I said, "Light them both --I'll have to have one to see the other by." He did it, but the result was drearier than darkness itself. He was a cheery, accommodating rascal. He said he would go "somewheres" and steal a lamp. I abetted and encouraged him in his criminal design. I heard the landlord get after him in the hall ten minutes afterward.
"Where are you going with that lamp?"
"Fifteen wants it, sir."
"Fifteen! why he's got a double lot of candles--does the man want to illuminate the house?--does he want to get up a torch-light procession?--what is he up to, any how?"
"He don't like them candles--says he wants a lamp."
"Why what in the nation does----why I never heard of such a thing? What on earth can he want with that lamp?"
"Well, he only wants to read--that's what he says."
"Wants to read, does he?--ain't satisfied with a thousand candles, but has to have a lamp!--I do wonder what the devil that fellow wants that lamp for? Take him another candle, and then if----"
"But he wants the lamp--says he'll burn the d--d old house down if he don't get a lamp!" (a remark which I never made.)
"I'd like to see him at it once. Well, you take it along--but I swear it beats my time, though--and see if you can't find out what in the very nation he wants with that lamp."
And he went off growling to himself and still wondering and wondering over the unaccountable conduct of No. 15. The lamp was a good one, but it revealed some disagreeable things--a bed in the suburbs of a desert of room--a bed that had hills and valleys in it, and you'd have to accommodate your body to the impression left in it by the man that slept there last, before you could lie comfortably; a carpet that had seen better days; a melancholy washstand in a remote corner, and a dejected pitcher on it sorrowing over a broken nose; a looking-glass split across the centre, which chopped your head off at the chin and made you look like some dreadful unfinished monster or other; the paper peeling in shreds from the walls.
I sighed and said: "This is charming; and now don't you think you could get me something to read?"
The porter said, "Oh, certainly; the old man's got dead loads of books;" and he was gone before I could tell him what sort of literature I would rather have. And yet his countenance expressed the utmost confidence in his ability to execute the commission with credit to himself. The old man made a descent on him.
"What are you going to do with that pile of books?"
"Fifteen wants 'em, sir."
"Fifteen, is it? He'll want a warming-pan, next--he'll want a nurse! Take him every thing there is in the house--take him the bar-keeper--take him the baggage-wagon--take him a chamber-maid! Confound me, I never saw any thing like it. What did he say he wants with those books?"
"Wants to read 'em, like enough; it ain't likely he wants to eat 'em, I don't reckon."
"Wants to read 'em--wants to read 'em this time of night, the infernal lunatic! Well, he can't have them."
"But he says he's mor'ly bound to have 'em; he says he'll just go a-rairin' and a-chargin' through this house and raise more--well, there's no tellin' what he won't do if he don't get 'em; because he's drunk and crazy and desperate, and nothing'll soothe him down but them cussed books." [I had not made any threats, and was not in the condition ascribed to me by the porter.]
"Well, go on; but I will be around when he goes to rairing and charging, and the first rair he makes I'll make him rair out of the window." And then the old gentleman went off, growling as before.
The genius of that porter was something wonderful. He put an armful of books on the bed and said "Good night" as confidently as if he knew perfectly well that those books were exactly my style of reading matter. And well he might. His selection covered the whole range of legitimate literature. It comprised "The Great Consummation," by Rev. Dr. Cummings--theology; "Revised Statutes of the State of Missouri"--law; "The Complete Horse-Doctor"--medicine; "The Toilers of the Sea," by Victor Hugo--romance; "The works of William Shakspeare"--poetry. I shall never cease to admire the tact and the intelligence of that gifted porter."
One of the things that amused me the most was when Twain, while on a trip out of the good ol' US of A, would go offf on tangets about how wonderful and amazing Lake Tahoe was in his opinion.
This happened at least three times and once went on for three pages!
Well, at least we definitely have a love of Lake Tahoe in common. He spent much time there, as did I, as a resident there during my last two years of high school.
He felt some strong pull to compare every lake he saw with Tahoe. And, the other lake always lost out in the comparison. Even the Sea of Galilee was not left untouched!
"The celebrated Sea of Galilee is not so large a sea as Lake Tahoe --[I measure all lakes by Tahoe, partly because I am far more familiar with it than with any other, and partly because I have such a high admiration for it and such a world of pleasant recollections of it, that it is very nearly impossible for me to speak of lakes and not mention it.]--by a good deal--it is just about two-thirds as large. And when we come to speak of beauty, this sea is no more to be compared to Tahoe than a meridian of longitude is to a rainbow. The dim waters of this pool can not suggest the limpid brilliancy of Tahoe; these low, shaven, yellow hillocks of rocks and sand, so devoid of perspective, can not suggest the grand peaks that compass Tahoe like a wall, and whose ribbed and chasmed fronts are clad with stately pines that seem to grow small and smaller as they climb, till one might fancy them reduced to weeds and shrubs far upward, where they join the everlasting snows. Silence and solitude brood over Tahoe; and silence and solitude brood also over this lake of Genessaret. But the solitude of the one is as cheerful and fascinating as the solitude of the other is dismal and repellant.
In the early morning one watches the silent battle of dawn and darkness upon the waters of Tahoe with a placid interest; but when the shadows sulk away and one by one the hidden beauties of the shore unfold themselves in the full splendor of noon; when the still surface is belted like a rainbow with broad bars of blue and green and white, half the distance from circumference to centre; when, in the lazy summer afternoon, he lies in a boat, far out to where the dead blue of the deep water begins, and smokes the pipe of peace and idly winks at the distant crags and patches of snow from under his cap-brim; when the boat drifts shoreward to the white water, and he lolls over the gunwale and gazes by the hour down through the crystal depths and notes the colors of the pebbles and reviews the finny armies gliding in procession a hundred feet below; when at night he sees moon and stars, mountain ridges feathered with pines, jutting white capes, bold promontories, grand sweeps of rugged scenery topped with bald, glimmering peaks, all magnificently pictured in the polished mirror of the lake, in richest, softest detail, the tranquil interest that was born with the morning deepens and deepens, by sure degrees, till it culminates at last in resistless fascination!
It is solitude, for birds and squirrels on the shore and fishes in the water are all the creatures that are near to make it otherwise, but it is not the sort of solitude to make one dreary. Come to Galilee for that. If these unpeopled deserts, these rusty mounds of barrenness, that never, never, never do shake the glare from their harsh outlines, and fade and faint into vague perspective; that melancholy ruin of Capernaum; this stupid village of Tiberias, slumbering under its six funereal plumes of palms; yonder desolate declivity where the swine of the miracle ran down into the sea, and doubtless thought it was better to swallow a devil or two and get drowned into the bargain than have to live longer in such a place; this cloudless, blistering sky; this solemn, sailless, tintless lake, reposing within its rim of yellow hills and low, steep banks, and looking just as expressionless and unpoetical (when we leave its sublime history out of the question,) as any metropolitan reservoir in Christendom--if these things are not food for rock me to sleep, mother, none exist, I think."
I have not read anything else, really since I started this tome. Life has just been so busy, and while I LOVED reading this book, it was not exactly gripping material.....so, I just plugged away till I got to the end. A most worthwhile task on my part, and one that I am sure will be entertaining me long after the exact words have faded.
Blessings to all.
With love and prayers,