“Travel is fatal to prejudice” – part III of III

MT cover 3 photoshopped 060514

Part 3 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.

Every great travelogue imprints memories of sights, experiences and perspectives. The Innocents Abroad or, The New Pilgrims’ Progress has too many to mention. For example, there is the “true cross… found in every church we go into… and as much as a keg of nails that held it together.”

Imprints of Twain’s views, especially of the U.S., do not leave us :

Just in this one matter lies the main charm of life in Europe—comfort. In America, we hurry—which is well; but when the day’s work is done, we go on thinking of losses and gains, we plan for the morrow, we even carry our business cares to bed with us, and toss and worry over them when we ought to be restoring our racked bodies and brains with sleep. We burn up our energies with these excitements, and either die early or drop into a lean and mean old age at a time of life which they call a man’s prime in Europe.

No smart phones in Twain’s day, but the need to fret and fritter was just as strong. Caught up in the tide of La Dolce Vita, he continues with his lesson:

Day by day we lose some of our restlessness and absorb some of the spirit of quietude and ease that is in the tranquil atmosphere about us and in the demeanor of the people. We grow wise apace. We begin to comprehend what life is for.

Rome’s ceremonial realm of church, saints, and organized religion indelibly imprints its image on countless travellers’ memories. Twain easily draws a contrast with money, a dominant American image and its currency of salvation:

In that singular country [America] if a rich man dies a sinner, he is damned; he can not buy salvation with money for masses. There is really not much use in being rich, there. Not much use as far as the other world is concerned, but much, very much use, as concerns this; because there, if a man be rich, he is very greatly honored, and can become a legislator, a governor, a general, a senator, no matter how ignorant an ass he is – just as in our beloved Italy the nobles hold all the great places, even though sometimes they are born noble idiots. There [America], if a man be rich, they give him costly presents, they ask him to feasts, they invite him to drink complicated beverages; but if he be poor and in debt, they require him to do that which they term to ‘settle.’

The journey’s cumulative impact changes the pilgrims’ orientation to their culture in the broadest, and, at the same time, deepest personal sense:

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things can not be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.

There endeth the lesson.

A good book, magnificently, artistically written by a literary genius.


— Tucker Cox, Zeteo Contributing Writer


Other Links


  1. Pingback: I travel to learn – Part 2 of 3 | Z e t e o

  2. Pingback: This book is a record of a pleasure trip – Part 1 of 3 | Z e t e o

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