Part 1 of 3 of Mark Twain’s,
classic travelogue. This one
discusses pilgrims, humor
Mark Twain’s first book, The Innocents Abroad or, The New Pilgrims’ Progress is one of the best-selling travelogues of all time. Twain’s “record of a pleasure trip shows readers how they would likely see Europe and the East with their own eyes instead of the eyes of those who traveled” before them. Describing, discussing, pontificating, and observing his and fellow pilgrims’ 134–day cruise on the chartered steamer, the Quaker City, in 1867, Twain established himself as a literary artist, master of the anecdote, humorist, connoisseur of language, curmudgeon and talented observer of what it means to be human.
Twain makes fantasy and anticipation of a magnificent cruise tangible:
The participants in it [the cruise]… were to… take a royal holiday beyond the broad ocean in many a strange clime and in many a land renowned in history! They were to sail for months over the breezy Atlantic and the sunny Mediterranean; they were to scamper about the decks by day, filling the ship with shouts and laughter… and at night they were to dance in the open air… in a ballroom that stretched from horizon to horizon, and was domed by the bending heavens and lighted by no meaner lamps than the stars and the magnificent moon — dance, and promenade, and smoke, and sing, and make love…
Twain describes fellow passenger Mr. Blucher’s frustration with the lack of soap in European hotels and the pilgrims’ instant intoxication with Paris, a dizzy headiness virtually all first time visitors enjoy, by creating Blucher’s brief note to the hotel landlord:
PARIS, le 7 Juillet. Monsieur le Landlord—Sir, Pourquoi don’t you mettez some savon in your bed-chambers? Est-ce que vous pensez I will steal it? La nuit passee you charged me pour deux chandelles when I only had one; hier vous avez charged me avec glace when I had none at all; tout les jours you are coming some fresh game or other on me, mais vous ne pouvez pas play this savon dodge on me twice. Savon is a necessary de la vie to any body but a Frenchman, et je l’aurai hors de cet hotel or make trouble. You hear me. Allons. BLUCHER.
I remonstrated against the sending this note, because it was so mixed up that the landlord would never be able to make head or tail of it; but Blucher said he guessed the old man could read the French of it and average the rest.
Travel restores innocence. It takes away innocence. It humbles; it confers an illusionary sense of superiority. Twain declares:
We wish to learn all the curious, outlandish ways of all the different countries, so that we can “show off” and astonish people when we get home… We wish to excite the envy of our untraveled friends with our strange foreign fashions which we can’t shake off… The gentle reader will never, never know what a consummate ass he can become, until he goes abroad.
Twain illustrates the painfully funny affliction:
There are Americans abroad in Italy who have actually forgotten their mother tongue in three months–forgot it in France. They can not even write their address in English in a hotel register. I append these evidences, which I copied verbatim from the register of a hotel in a certain Italian city: “John P. Whitcomb, Etats Unis. “Wm. L. Ainsworth, travailleur (he meant traveler, I suppose,) Etats Unis. “George P. Morton et fils, d’Amerique. “Lloyd B. Williams, et trois amis, ville de Boston, Amerique. “J. Ellsworth Baker, tout de suite de France, place de naissance Amerique, destination la Grand Bretagne.”
A lady passenger of ours tells of a fellow-citizen of hers who spent eight weeks in Paris and then returned home and addressed his dearest old bosom friend Herbert as Mr. “Er-bare!” He apologized, though, and said, “‘Pon my soul it is aggravating, but I cahn’t help it–I have got so used to speaking nothing but French, my dear Erbare–damme there it goes again!.” This entertaining idiot, whose name was Gordon, allowed himself to be hailed three times in the street before he paid any attention, and then begged a thousand pardons and said he had grown so accustomed to hearing himself addressed as “M’sieu Gor-r-dong,” with a roll to the r, that he had forgotten the legitimate sound of his name!
Twain’s observations on sightseeing and guides are equally amusing. His views of American society are prescient, giving us insight into our character today. More in the next two installments.
— Tucker Cox – Zeteo Contributing Writer
Other links: Kindle edition $1.99 click here. Visit the Innocents Abroad homepage from the University of Virginia’s interpretive archive, Mark Twain and His Times. View a Hypertext map of Quaker City cruise itinerary
Part 2 – “I travel to Learn” is about Twain’s artistic achievment
Part 3 – “Travel Is Fatal to Prejudice” – viewing America from abroad
Pictures courtesy of Bing Images – key words, The Innocents Abroad