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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol II, Part 2: 1886 - 1900|
CLXXVI. A European Summer
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|They landed at Havre and went directly to Paris, where they remained
about a week. From Paris Clemens wrote to Hall that a deal by which he
had hoped to sell out his interest in the type-setter to the Mallorys, of
the Churchman, had fallen through.
"Therefore," he said, "you will have to modify your instalment system to
meet the emergency of a constipated purse; for if you should need to
borrow any more money I would not know how or where to raise it."
The Clemens party went to Geneva, then rested for a time at the baths of
Aix; from Aix to Bayreuth to attend the Wagner festival, and from
Bayreuth to Marienbad for further additions of health. Clemens began
writing his newspaper letters at Aix, the first of which consists of
observations at that "paradise of rheumatics." This letter is really a
careful and faithful description of Aix-les-Bains, with no particular
drift of humor in it. He tells how in his own case the baths at first
developed plenty of pain, but that the subsequent ones removed almost all
"I've got back the use of my arm the last few days, and I am going away
now," he says, and concludes by describing the beautiful drives and
scenery about Aix--the pleasures to be found paddling on little Lake
Bourget and the happy excursions to Annecy.
At the end of an hour you come to Annecy and rattle through its old
crooked lanes, built solidly up with curious old houses that are a
dream of the Middle Ages, and presently you come to the main object
of your trip--Lake Annecy. It is a revelation. It is a miracle.
It brings the tears to a body's eyes. It is so enchanting. That is
to say, it affects you just as all other things that you instantly
recognize as perfect affect you--perfect music, perfect eloquence,
perfect art, perfect joy, perfect grief.
He was getting back into his old descriptive swing, but his dislike for
travel was against him, and he found writing the letters hard. From
Bayreuth he wrote "At the Shrine of St. Wagner," one of the best
descriptions of that great musical festival that has been put into words.
He paid full tribute to the performance, also to the Wagner devotion,
confessing its genuineness.
This opera of "Tristan and Isolde" last night broke the hearts of
all witnesses who were of the faith, and I know of some, and have
heard of many, who could not sleep after it, but cried the night
away. I feel strongly out of place here. Sometimes I feel like the
one sane person in the community of the mad; sometimes I feel like
the one blind man where all others see; the one groping savage in
the college of the learned, and always during service I feel like a
heretic in heaven.
He tells how he really enjoyed two of the operas, and rejoiced in
supposing that his musical regeneration was accomplished and perfected;
but alas! he was informed by experts that those particular events were
not real music at all. Then he says:
Well, I ought to have recognized the sign the old, sure sign that
has never failed me in matters of art. Whenever I enjoy anything in
art it means that it is mighty poor. The private knowledge of this
fact has saved me from going to pieces with enthusiasm in front of
many and many a chromo. However, my base instinct does bring me
profit sometimes; I was the only man out of 3,200 who got his money
back on those two operas.
His third letter was from Marienbad, in Bohemia, another "health-
factory," as he calls it, and is of the same general character as those
preceding. In his fourth letter he told how he himself took charge of
the family fortunes and became courier from Aix to Bayreuth. It is a
very delightful letter, most of it, and probably not greatly burlesqued
or exaggerated in its details. It is included now in the "Complete
Works," as fresh and delightful as ever. They returned to Germany at the
end of August, to Nuremberg, which he notes as the "city of exquisite
glimpses," and to Heidelberg, where they had their old apartment of
thirteen years before, Room 40 at the Schloss Hotel, with its wonderful
prospect of wood and hill, and the haze-haunted valley of the Rhine.
They remained less than a week in that beautiful place, and then were off
for Switzerland, Lucerne, Brienz, Interlaken, finally resting at the
Hotel Beau Rivage, Ouchy, Lausanne, on beautiful Lake Leman.
Clemens had agreed to write six of the newspaper letters, and he had by
this time finished five of them, the fifth being dated from Interlaken,
its subject, "Switzerland, the Cradle of Liberty." He wrote to Hall that
it was his intention to write another book of travel and to take a year
or two to collect the material. The Century editors were after him for a
series after the style of Innocents Abroad. He considered this
suggestion, but declined by cable, explaining to Hall that he intended to
write for serial publication no more than the six newspaper letters. He
To write a book of travel would be less trouble than to write six
detached chapters. Each of these letters requires the same variety
of treatment and subject that one puts into a book; but in the book
each chapter doesn't have to be rounded and complete in itself.
He suggested that the six letters be gathered into a small volume which
would contain about thirty-five or forty thousand words, to be sold as
low as twenty-five cents, but this idea appears to have been dropped.
At Ouchy Clemens conceived the idea of taking a little trip on his own
account, an excursion that would be a rest after the strenuous three
months' travel and sightseeing--one that he could turn into literature.
He engaged Joseph Very, a courier used during their earlier European
travels, and highly recommended in the Tramp Abroad. He sent Joseph over
to Lake Bourget to engage a boat and a boatman for a ten days' trip down
the river Rhone. For five dollars Joseph bought a safe, flat-bottom
craft; also he engaged the owner as pilot. A few days later--September
19--Clemens followed. They stopped overnight on an island in Lake
Bourget, and in his notes Clemens tells how he slept in the old castle of
Chatillon, in the room where a pope was born. They started on their
drift next morning. To Mrs. Clemens, in some good-by memoranda, he said:
The lake is as smooth as glass; a brilliant sun is shining.
Our boat is so comfortable and shady with its awning.
11.20. We have crossed the lake and are entering the canal. Shall
presently be in the Rhone.
Noon. Nearly down to the Rhone, passing the village of Chanaz.
Sunday, 3.15 P.M. We have been in the Rhone three hours. It
is unimaginably still & reposeful & cool & soft & breezy. No rowing
or work of any kind to do--we merely float with the current we glide
noiseless and swift--as fast as a London cab-horse rips along--8
miles an hour--the swiftest current I've ever boated in. We have the
entire river to ourselves nowhere a boat of any kind.
Pleasant it must have been in the warm September days to go swinging down
that swift, gray stream which comes racing out of Switzerland into
France, fed from a thousand glaciers. He sent almost daily memoranda of
his progress. Half-way to Arles he wrote:
It's too delicious, floating with the swift current under the
awning these superb, sunshiny days in deep peace and quietness.
Some of these curious old historical towns strangely persuade me,
but it is so lovely afloat that I don't stop, but view them from the
outside and sail on. We get abundance of grapes and peaches for
next to nothing. My, but that inn was suffocating with garlic where
we stayed last night! I had to hold my nose as we went up-stairs or
I believe I should have fainted.
Little bit of a room, rude board floor unswept, 2 chairs, unpainted
white pine table--void the furniture! Had a good firm bed, solid as
a rock, & you could have brained an ox with the bolster.
These six hours have been entirely delightful. I want to do all the
rivers of Europe in an open boat in summer weather.
Still further along he described one of their shore accommodations.
Night caught us yesterday where we had to take quarters in a
peasant's house which was occupied by the family and a lot of cows &
calves, also several rabbits.--[His word for fleas. Neither fleas
nor mosquitoes ever bit him--probably because of his steady use of
tobacco.]--The latter had a ball & I was the ballroom; but they
were very friendly and didn't bite.
The peasants were mighty kind and hearty & flew around & did their
best to make us comfortable. This morning I breakfasted on the
shore in the open air with two sociable dogs & a cat. Clean cloth,
napkins & table furniture, white sugar, a vast hunk of excellent
butter, good bread, first-class coffee with pure milk, fried fish
just caught. Wonderful that so much cleanliness should come out of
such a phenomenally dirty house.
An hour ago we saw the Falls of the Rhone, a prodigiously rough and
dangerous-looking place; shipped a little water, but came to no
harm. It was one of the most beautiful pieces of piloting & boat
management I ever saw. Our admiral knew his business.
We have had to run ashore for shelter every time it has rained
heretofore, but Joseph has been putting in his odd time making a
waterproof sun-bonnet for the boat, & now we sail along dry,
although we have had many heavy showers this morning.
Here follows a pencil-drawing of the boat and its new awning, and he
adds: "I'm on the stern, under the shelter, and out of sight."
The trip down the Rhone proved more valuable as an outing than as
literary material. Clemens covered one hundred and seventy-four pages
with his notes of it, then gave it up. Traveling alone with no one but
Joseph and the Admiral (former owner of the craft) was reposeful and
satisfactory, but it did not inspire literary flights. He tried to
rectify the lack of companionship by introducing fictitious characters,
such as Uncle Abner, Fargo, and Stavely, a young artist; also Harris,
from the Tramp Abroad; but Harris was not really there this time, and
Mark Twain's genius, given rather to elaboration than to construction,
found it too severe a task to imagine a string of adventures without at
least the customary ten per cent. of fact to build upon.
It was a day above Avignon that he had an experience worth while. They
were abreast of an old castle, nearing a village, one of the huddled
jumble of houses of that locality, when, glancing over his left shoulder
toward the distant mountain range, he received what he referred to later
as a soul-stirring shock. Pointing to the outline of the distant range
he said to the courier:
"Name it. Who is it?"
The courier said, "Napoleon."
Clemens assented. The Admiral, when questioned, also promptly agreed
that the mountain outlined was none other than the reclining figure of
the great commander himself. They watched and discussed the phenomenon
until they reached the village. Next morning Clemens was up for a first
daybreak glimpse of his discovery. Later he reported it to Mrs. Clemens:
I did so long for you and Sue yesterday morning--the most superb
sunrise--the most marvelous sunrise--& I saw it all, from the very
faintest suspicion of the coming dawn, all the way through to the
final explosion of glory. But it had an interest private to itself
& not to be found elsewhere in the world; for between me & it, in
the far-distant eastward, was a silhouetted mountain range, in which
I had discovered, the previous afternoon, a most noble face upturned
to the sky, & mighty form outstretched, which I had named Napoleon
Dreaming of Universal Empire--& now this prodigious face, soft,
rich, blue, spirituelle, asleep, tranquil, reposeful, lay against
that giant conflagration of ruddy and golden splendors, all rayed
like a wheel with the up-streaming & far-reaching lances of the sun.
It made one want to cry for delight, it was so supreme in its
unimaginable majesty & beauty.
He made a pencil-sketch of the Napoleon head in his note-book, and stated
that the apparition could be seen opposite the castle of Beauchastel; but
in later years his treacherous memory betrayed him, and, forgetting these
identifying marks, he told of it as lying a few hours above Arles, and
named it the "Lost Napoleon," because those who set out to find it did
not succeed. He even wrote an article upon the subject, in which he
urged tourists to take steamer from Arles and make a short trip upstream,
keeping watch on the right-hand bank, with the purpose of rediscovering
the natural wonder. Fortunately this sketch was not published. It would
have been set down as a practical joke by disappointed travelers. One of
Mark Twain's friends, Mr. Theodore Stanton, made a persistent effort to
find the Napoleon, but with the wrong directions naturally failed.
It required ten days to float to Arles. Then the current gave out and
Clemens ended the excursion and returned to Lausanne by rail. He said:
"It was twenty-eight miles to Marseilles, and somebody would have to row.
That would not have been pleasure; it would have meant work for the
sailor, and I do not like work even when another person does it."
To Twichell in America he wrote:
You ought to have been along--I could have made room for you easily,
& you would have found that a pedestrian tour in Europe doesn't
begin with a raft voyage for hilarity & mild adventure & intimate
contact with the unvisited native of the back settlements &
extinction from the world and newspapers & a conscience in a state
of coma & lazy comfort & solid happiness. In fact, there's nothing
that's so lovely.
But it's all over. I gave the raft away yesterday at Arles & am loafing
along back by short stages on the rail to Ouchy, Lausanne, where the
tribe are staying at the Beau Rivage and are well and prosperous.