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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol I, Part 2: 1866 - 1875|
LXI. The Innocents Abroad
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|It was Dan, Jack, and the Doctor who with Mark Twain wandered down
through Italy and left moral footprints that remain to this day. The
Italian guides are wary about showing pieces of the True Cross, fragments
of the Crown of Thorns, and the bones of saints since then. They show
them, it is true, but with a smile; the name of Mark Twain is a touch-
stone to test their statements. Not a guide in Italy but has heard the
tale of that iconoclastic crew, and of the book which turned their
marvels into myths, their relics into bywords.
It was Doctor Jackson, Colonel Denny, Doctor Birch, and Samuel Clemens
who evaded the quarantine and made the perilous night trip to Athens and
looked upon the Parthenon and the sleeping city by moonlight. It is all
set down in the notes, and the account varies little from that given in
the book; only he does not tell us that Captain Duncan and the
quartermaster, Pratt, connived at the escapade, or how the latter watched
the shore in anxious suspense until he heard the whistle which was their
signal to be taken aboard. It would have meant six months' imprisonment
if they had been captured, for there was no discretion in the Greek law.
It was T. D. Crocker, A. N. Sanford, Col. Peter Kinney, and William
Gibson who were delegated to draft the address to the Emperor of Russia
at Yalta, with Samuel L. Clemens as chairman of that committee. The
chairman wrote the address, the opening sentence of which he grew so
weary of hearing:
We are a handful of private citizens of America, traveling simply
for recreation, and unostentatiously, as becomes our unofficial
The address is all set down in the notes, and there also exists the first
rough draft, with the emendations in his own hand. He deplores the time
That job is over. Writing addresses to emperors is not my strong
suit. However, if it is not as good as it might be it doesn't
signify--the other committeemen ought to have helped me write it;
they had nothing to do, and I had my hands full. But for bothering
with this I would have caught up entirely with my New York Tribune
correspondence and nearly up with the San Francisco.
They wanted him also to read the address to the Emperor, but he pointed
out that the American consul was the proper person for that office. He
tells how the address was presented:
August 26th. The Imperial carriages were in waiting at eleven, and at
twelve we were at the palace....
The Consul for Odessa read the address and the Czar said frequently,
"Good--very good; indeed"--and at the close, "I am very, very grateful."
It was not improper for him to set down all this, and much more, in his
own note-book--not then for publication. It was in fact a very proper
One incident of the imperial audience Mark Twain omitted from his book,
perhaps because the humor of it had not yet become sufficiently evident.
"The humorous perception of a thing is a pretty slow growth sometimes,"
he once remarked. It was about seventeen years before he could laugh
enjoyably at a slight mistake he made at the Emperor's reception. He set
down a memorandum of it, then, for fear it might be lost:
There were a number of great dignitaries of the Empire there, and
although, as a general thing, they were dressed in citizen's
clothing, I observed that the most of them wore a very small piece
of ribbon in the lapels of their coats. That little touch of color
struck my fancy, and it seemed to me a good idea to add it to my own
attractions; not imagining that it had any special significance. So
I stepped aside, hunted up a bit of red ribbon, and ornamented my
lapel with it. Presently, Count Festetics, the Grand Master of
ceremonies, and the only man there who was gorgeously arrayed, in
full official costume, began to show me a great many attentions. He
was particularly polite, and pleasant, and anxious to be of service
to me. Presently, he asked me what order of nobility I belonged to?
I said, "I didn't belong to any." Then he asked me what order of
knighthood I belonged to? I said, "None." Then he asked me what
the red ribbon in my buttonhole stood for? I saw, at once, what an
ass I had been making of myself, and was accordingly confused and
embarrassed. I said the first thing that came into my mind, and
that was that the ribbon was merely the symbol of a club of
journalists to which I belonged, and I was not pursued with any more
of Count Festetic's attentions.
Later, I got on very familiar terms with an old gentleman, whom I
took to be the head gardener, and walked him all about the gardens,
slipping my arm into his without invitation, yet without demur on
his part, and by and by was confused again when I found that he was
not a gardener at all, but the Lord High Admiral of Russia! I
almost made up my mind that I would never call on an Emperor again.
Like all Mediterranean excursionists, those first pilgrims were
insatiable collectors of curios, costumes, and all manner of outlandish
things. Dan Slote had the stateroom hung and piled with such gleanings.
At Constantinople his room-mate writes:
I thought Dan had got the state-room pretty full of rubbish at last,
but awhile ago his dragoman arrived with a brand-new ghastly
tombstone of the Oriental pattern, with his name handsomely carved
and gilted on it in Turkish characters. That fellow will buy a
Circassian slave next.
It was Church, Denny, Jack, Davis, Dan, Moult, and Mark Twain who made
the "long trip" through Syria from Beirut to Jerusalem with their
elaborate camping outfit and decrepit nags "Jericho," "Baalbec," and the
rest. It was better camping than that Humboldt journey of six years
before, though the horses were not so dissimilar, and altogether it was a
hard, nerve-racking experience, climbing the arid hills of Palestine in
that torrid summer heat. Nobody makes that trip in summer-time now.
Tourists hurry out of Syria before the first of April, and they do not go
back before November. One brief quotation from Mark Twain's book gives
us an idea of what that early party of pilgrims had to undergo:
We left Damascus at noon and rode across the plain a couple of
hours, and then the party stopped a while in the shade of some fig-
trees to give me a chance to rest. It was the hottest day we had
seen yet--the sun-flames shot down like the shafts of fire that
stream out before a blow-pipe; the rays seemed to fall in a deluge
on the head and pass downward like rain from a roof. I imagined I
could distinguish between the floods of rays. I thought I could
tell when each flood struck my head, when it reached my shoulders,
and when the next one came. It was terrible.
He had been ill with cholera at Damascus, a light attack; but any attack
of that dread disease is serious enough. He tells of this in the book,
but he does not mention, either in the book or in his notes, the attack
which Dan Slote had some days later. It remained for William F. Church,
of the party, to relate that incident, for it was the kind of thing that
Mark Twain was not likely to record, or even to remember. Doctor Church
was a deacon with orthodox views and did not approve of Mark Twain; he
thought him sinful, irreverent, profane.
"He was the worst man I ever knew," Church said; then he added, "And the
What happened was this: At the end of a terrible day of heat, when the
party had camped on the edge of a squalid Syrian village, Dan was taken
suddenly ill. It was cholera, beyond doubt. Dan could not go on--he
might never go on. The chances were that way. It was a serious matter
all around. To wait with Dan meant to upset their travel schedule--it
might mean to miss the ship. Consultation was held and a resolution
passed (the pilgrims were always passing resolutions) to provide for Dan
as well as possible, and leave him behind. Clemens, who had remained
with Dan, suddenly appeared and said:
"Gentlemen, I understand that you are going to leave Dan Slote here
alone. I'll be d---d if I do!"
And he didn't. He stayed there and brought Dan into Jerusalem, a few
days late, but convalescent.
Perhaps most of them were not always reverent during that Holy Land trip.
It was a trying journey, and after fierce days of desert hills the
reaction might not always spare even the holiest memories. Jack was
particularly sinful. When they learned the price for a boat on Galilee,
and the deacons who had traveled nearly half around the world to sail on
that sacred water were confounded by the charge, Jack said:
"Well, Denny, do you wonder now that Christ walked?"
It was the irreverent Jack who one morning (they had camped the night
before by the ruins of Jericho) refused to get up to see the sun rise
across the Jordan. Deacon Church went to his tent.
"Jack, my boy, get up. Here is the place where the Israelites crossed
over into the Promised Land, and beyond are the mountains of Moab, where
Moses lies buried."
"Moses who!" said Jack.
"Oh, Jack, my boy, Moses, the great lawgiver--who led the Israelites out
of Egypt-forty years through the wilderness--to the Promised Land."
"Forty years!" said Jack. "How far was it?"
"It was three hundred miles, Jack; a great wilderness, and he brought
them through in safety."
Jack regarded him with scorn. "Huh, Moses--three hundred miles forty
years--why, Ben Holiday would have brought them through in thirty-six
hours!"--[Ben Holiday, owner of the Overland stages, and a man of great
executive ability. This incident, a true one, is more elaborately told
in Roughing It, but it seems pertinent here.]
Jack probably learned more about the Bible during that trip-its history
and its heroes-than during all his former years. Nor was Jack the only
one of that group thus benefited. The sacred landmarks of Palestine
inspire a burning interest in the Scriptures, and Mark Twain probably did
not now regret those early Sunday-school lessons; certainly he did not
fail to review them exhaustively on that journey. His note-books fairly
overflow with Bible references; the Syrian chapters in The Innocents
Abroad are permeated with the poetry and legendary beauty of the Bible
story. The little Bible he carried on that trip, bought in
Constantinople, was well worn by the time they reached the ship again at
Jaffa. He must have read it with a large and persistent interest; also
with a double benefit. For, besides the knowledge acquired, he was
harvesting a profit--probably unsuspected at the time---viz., the
influence of the most direct and beautiful English--the English of the
King James version--which could not fail to affect his own literary
method at that impressionable age. We have already noted his earlier
admiration for that noble and simple poem, "The Burial of Moses," which
in the Palestine note-book is copied in full. All the tendency of his
expression lay that way, and the intense consideration of stately Bible
phrase and imagery could hardly fail to influence his mental processes.
The very distinct difference of style, as shown in The Innocents Abroad
and in his earlier writings, we may believe was in no small measure due
to his study of the King James version during those weeks in Palestine.
He bought another Bible at Jerusalem; but it was not for himself. It was
a little souvenir volume bound in olive and balsam wood, and on the fly-
leaf is inscribed:
Mrs. Jane Clemens from her son. Jerusalem, Sept. 24, 1867.
There is one more circumstance of that long cruise-recorded neither in
the book nor the notes--an incident brief, but of more importance in the
life of Samuel Clemens than any heretofore set down. It occurred in the
beautiful Bay of Smyrna, on the fifth or sixth of September, while the
vessel lay there for the Ephesus trip.
Reference has been made to young Charles Langdon, of Elmira (the
"Charley" once mentioned in the Innocents), as an admirer of Mark Twain.
There was a good deal of difference in their ages, and they were seldom
of the same party; but sometimes the boy invited the journalist to his
cabin and, boy-like, exhibited his treasures. He had two sisters at
home; and of Olivia, the youngest, he had brought a dainty miniature done
on ivory in delicate tints--a sweet-pictured countenance, fine and
spiritual. On that fateful day in the day of Smyrna, Samuel Clemens,
visiting in young Langdon's cabin, was shown this portrait. He looked at
it with long admiration, and spoke of it reverently, for the delicate
face seemed to him to be something more than a mere human likeness. Each
time he came, after that, he asked to see the picture, and once even
begged to be allowed to take it away with him. The boy would not agree
to this, and the elder man looked long and steadily at the miniature,
resolving in his mind that some day he would meet the owner of that
lovely face--a purpose for once in accord with that which the fates had
arranged for him, in the day when all things were arranged, the day of
the first beginning.