Part 2 of 3 of Mark Twain’s memoir of his 134-day
European and Holy Land cruise in 1867,
the biggest selling book in his lifetime
So said Mark Twain in is classic, travelogue, The Innocents Abroad or, The New Pilgrims’ Progress. And while he and his companions indeed discover “half the world,” the reader learns more. Page after page of Mark Twain’s Innocents (like all of his books) illustrates his brilliant writing.
Twain’s facility with language, his immense vocabulary, his superior ability to create suspenseful and vividly descriptive sentences, his humor, and his intuitive understanding of the rhythm of English mark his literary excellence. These and other skills characterize Twain’s ability to create a relationship with his readers, “infecting” and “compelling” them to experience what Twain experiences, to see what he sees, feel what he feels. Tolstoy said art is getting the reader (or viewer or listener) to participate spontaneously, unknowingly, involuntarily, as if infected, as if compelled to do no less, in a book, a painting, or music.
This passage illustrates Twain’s eye for rich detail, use of metaphor and simile, arising naturally, born from the prose, and his sense of humor.
The pilgrims are traveling by horseback through the Holy Land to Jerusalem.
In the early morning we mounted and started. And then a weird apparition marched forth at the head of the procession—a pirate, I thought, if ever a pirate dwelt upon land. It was a tall Arab, as swarthy as an Indian; young – say thirty years of age. On his head he had closely bound a gorgeous yellow and red striped silk scarf, whose ends, lavishly fringed with tassels, hung down between his shoulders and dallied with the wind. From his neck to his knees, in ample folds, a robe swept down that was a very star-spangled banner of curved and sinuous bars of black and white. Out of his back, somewhere, apparently, the long stem of a chibouk [a tobacco pipe] projected, and reached far above his right shoulder. Athwart his back, diagonally, and extending high above his left shoulder, was an Arab gun of Saladin’s time, that was splendid with silver plating from stock clear up to the end of its measureless stretch of barrel. About his waist was bound many and many a yard of elaborately figured but sadly tarnished stuff that came from sumptuous Persia, and among the baggy folds in front the sunbeams glinted from a formidable battery of old brass-mounted horse pistols and the gilded hilts of blood-thirsty knives. There were holsters for more pistols appended to the wonderful stack of long haired goat-skins and Persian carpets, which the man had been taught to regard in the light of a saddle; and down among the pendulous rank of vast tassels that swung from that saddle, and clanging against the iron shovel of a stirrup that propped the warrior’s knees up toward his chin, was a crooked, silver-clad scimitar of such awful dimensions and such implacable expression that no man might hope to look upon it and not shudder.
Said the tour guide, seeking to earn his commission,
“Our guard! From Galilee to the birthplace of the Saviour, the country is infested with fierce Bedouins, whose sole happiness it is, in this life, to cut and stab and mangle and murder unoffending Christians. Allah be with us!”
I rode to the front and struck up an acquaintance with King Solomon-in-all-his-glory, and got him to show me his lingering eternity of a gun. It had a rusty flint lock; it was ringed and barred and plated with silver… The muzzle was eaten by the rust of centuries into a ragged filigree-work, like the end of a burnt-out stove-pipe. I shut one eye and peered within—it was flaked with iron rust like an old steamboat boiler. I borrowed the ponderous pistols and snapped them. They were rusty inside, too – had not been loaded for a generation. I went back, full of encouragement, and reported to the guide, and asked him to discharge this dismantled fortress.
We reached [our destination] safely, and considerably in advance of that old iron-clad swindle of a guard. We never saw a human being on the whole route, much less lawless hordes of Bedouin.
If anything, there is too much of Twain’s splendid writing, marvellous sense of humor and repeated lessons in crafting a fine sentence. His text seems to go on and on, divided into six parts and 61 chapters. But, if you’re a chocaholic…
– Tucker Cox – Zeteo Contributing Writer
Part 1 – May 29 – humor, Paris, pilgrims – travel restores innocence. It takes away innocence.
Part 3 – June 12 – “I travel to Learn”
Pictures courtesy of Bing Images – key words, The Innocents Abroad