The Athenaeum [British; unsigned]
1870: September 24


But for the Introduction to this book, we should have little difficulty in assigning it its proper place in literature. We should say at once that the author was draping himself in the garb of one of those typical Yankee tourists of whom we hear so often, and whom we do meet occasionally, -- the tourists who "do" Europe in six weeks, -- whose comment on Venice is that they do not care much for those old towns, and on the Venus de' Medici that they do not like them stone gals. If we thought at all about the name on the title-page, we should put it down as a pseudonym, though the probability is that we should not think about it. Anyhow, we should come to the conclusion that Mark Twain, whoever he might be, had hit off the oddities of some of his countrymen very well; that many of his remarks were amusing, and almost witty; and that he was certainly not such a fool as he tried to look. But when Mr. Hingston tells us seriously that Mark Twain is really the pseudonym of the sub-editor of a daily paper in a Western city a few months old, that he is a flower of the wilderness, a thoroughly untravelled American applying the standard of Nevada to historical Europe, we are fairly puzzled. We can readily believe that the writer of this book is ignorant of many of those things which would be familiar to an English tourist. His remark that "Raphael, Angelo, Canova -- giants like these gave birth to the designs" of the statues on the Cathedral at Milan, is not much more than the hasty generalization of one who takes his facts from guides and guide-books. The statement that "Raphael pictured such infernal villains as Catherine de' Medici seated in heaven and conversing familiarly with the Virgin Mary and the angels," may surprise those who remember that Catherine de' Medici was only born one year before the death of Raphael. Again, we are told that Raphael is buried in Santa Croce, instead of in the Pantheon; but we may conclude from this that in Mark Twain's opinion every great artist should be buried in several places, just as each relic of a saint is multiplied. We owe this suggestion to what Mark Twain says of an important fellow-passenger calling himself Commissioner of the United States of America to Europe, Asia, and Africa. The comment on this "titular avalanche" is, "to my thinking, when the United States considered it necessary to send a dignitary of that tonnage across the ocean, it would be in better taste and safer to take him apart and cart him over in sections in several ships."

In all these mistakes there is nothing unnatural. Most men who are not learned, and who do not take the precaution of using books of reference before they speak, may fall into the same errors. The only thing that characterizes Mark Twain is the reckless manner in which he makes his assertions. The greater his blunder, the more assurance there is in his language. Thus he says, without the slightest reserve, that the Emperor of the French "kept his faithful watch and walked his weary beat as a common policeman of London" as if the special constable of 1848 had been Z 264. Yet it is not till we get beyond the mistakes that we light on the genuine untravelled American. It is significant of him that he does not commit himself to facts of his own, because he is sceptical as to the existence of everything. He listens gravely to the guide's stories, and then asks some question which reduces them to an absurdity. He finds everybody else admiring a picture, and that is enough to set him against it. By putting a number of exaggerations together he deprives any little grain of truth of its value. This is the man who, in the present volume, remarks that the Italians spell a word Vinci and pronounce it Vinchy, adding calmly, "foreigners always spell better than they pronounce." He, too, when shown the writing of Christopher Columbus observes, "Why, I have seen boys in America only fourteen years old that could write better than that. You mustn't think you can impose on us because we are strangers. We are not fools by a good deal. If you have got any specimens of penmanship of real merit, trot them out, and if you haven't, drive on!" There are a good many comments on pictures from the same point of view. Take this on the characters of Sacred Art: "When we see a monk sitting on a rock, looking tranquilly up to heaven, with a human skull beside him and without other baggage, we know that is St. Jerome; because we know that he always went flying light in the matter of baggage. When we see a party looking tranquilly up to heaven, unconscious that his body is shot through and through with arrows, we know that that is St. Sebastian. When we see other monks looking tranquilly up to heaven, but having no trade-mark, we always ask who those parties are." Another question on which the untravelled American is worth hearing is the ubiquity of guides, with their constant repetition of legends and their unceasing exaggeration. At Gibraltar one story was dinned into the tourist's ear, till at last he exclaimed to the narrator, "Sir, I am a helpless orphan in a foreign land; have pity on me." One supposed safeguard against invention is that a guide "would hardly try so hazardous an experiment as the telling of a falsehood when it is all he can do to speak the truth in English without getting the lockjaw." But even this seems to have failed in Rome, if we may judge from the following tirade against the mythical being to whom the guides give the name of Michael Angelo:

In this connection I wish to say one word about Michael Angelo Buonarotti. I used to worship the mighty genius of Michael Angelo--that man who was great in poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture--great in everything he undertook. But I do not want Michael Angelo for breakfast--for luncheon--for dinner--for tea--for supper--for between meals. I like a change, occasionally. In Genoa, he designed everything; in Milan he or his pupils designed everything; he designed the Lake of Como; in Padua, Verona, Venice, Bologna, who did we ever hear of, from guides, but Michael Angelo? In Florence, he painted everything, designed everything, nearly, and what he did not design he used to sit on a favorite stone and look at, and they showed us the stone. In Pisa he designed everything but the old shot-tower, and they would have attributed that to him if it had not been so awfully out of the perpendicular. He designed the piers of Leghorn and the custom-house regulations of Civita Vecchia. But, here--here it is frightful. He designed St. Peter's; he designed the Pope; he designed the Pantheon, the uniform of the Pope's soldiers, the Tiber, the Vatican, the Coliseum, the Capitol, the Tarpeian Rock, the Barberini Palace, St. John Lateran, the Campagna, the Appian Way, the Seven Hills, the Baths of Caracalla, the Claudian Aqueduct, the Cloaca Maxima--the eternal bore designed the Eternal City, and unless all men and books do lie, he painted everything in it! Dan said the other day to the guide, "Enough, enough, enough! Say no more! Lump the whole thing! say that the Creator made Italy from designs by Michael Angelo!"
    I never felt so fervently thankful, so soothed, so tranquil, so filled with a blessed peace, as I did yesterday, when I learned that Michael Angelo was dead.

This last touch is exactly characteristic of the untravelled American. In other places, however, the exaggeration to which Mark Twain gives way shows that he is consciously acting a part. We do not like him any the worse for that, and without the preface we should have been easily reconciled to his eccentricities. His incidental remarks about things in general are sufficiently humorous to ensure his book a hearing, though they have the misfortune to contradict Mr. Hingston's theory. The genuine Yankee tourist would never sneer at one of his fellow countrymen for ignorance of French manners and assumption of native superiority. When Mark Twain finds an American proclaiming his nationality in this offensive way -- "I am a freeborn sovereign, Sir, an American, Sir, and I want everybody to know it" -- he adds, "the fellow did not mention that he was a lineal descendant of Balaam's ass, but everybody knew that without his telling it." Does this come under the rule of Quis tulerit Gracchos? We think not. In our opinion Mark Twain is merely showing the prevalence of the faults which he satirizes. He wishes to remind us that, whether we take Mr. Hingston's view or the more natural one, he is not the only untravelled American in his party, and that he is always on the look-out for incidents which may serve his purpose. In this respect Mark Twain's travels remind us of The Book of Snobs, where the fancy picture of the author wholly eclipsed his characters.

[This reviewer read the pirated English edition of Innocents Abroad, published in 1870 with the title The New Pilgrim's Progress. The Introduction referred to was written for that edition by Edward P. Hingston, who had met MT in Nevada.]

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