Selected Pre-Texts

MT was as much a re-writer as a writer. Throughout his career he depended heavily on other books -- pre-texts -- to shape both his humorous and his realist agendas. In many places Innocents Abroad burlesques or parodies earlier sentimental or romantic narratives, and throughout it is defined as an attempt to revise previous accounts of the Old World, to show American readers Europe and the Holy Land as they really are, and not as various books have depicted them.

Thus MT's first book has many "sources." As a travel narrative, for example, its origins could be traced as far back as Irving's account of an American going back east in The Sketch-Book -- or even further. Here, however, are included only a few of the more significant contemporary texts with which MT's book is in dialogue.


Although by far the most popular, Innocents was not the first humorous account of travel to the Old World. Yusef; or the Journey of the Frangi, published in 1853 by J. Ross Browne, is about comic misadventures in the Holy Land. MT knew this Browne, but he was more deeply indebted to the travel accounts of Charles Farrar Browne -- better known as Artemus Ward. In 1866, "Ward" was in England, lecturing on his experiences among the same Western scenes MT would write about in Roughing It (see Mark Twain on Stage). While there, he published eight letters in the comic magazine Punch about the way the sites and shrines of England looked to him. Like a lot of American humorists before MT, Ward partly relied for laughs on komik mishspellin, but the kinds of American innocence his pilgrim embodies certainly helped MT define his own character:

Artemus Ward's Visit to the Tower of London

Most American accounts of the Old World, though, were not humorous, but rather serious -- even solemn and reverent. One of the most popular 19th-century American travel writers was Bayard Taylor. He died in 1878, but multi-volume editions of his travel books continued to be brought out throughout MT's career. In Views A-Foot (1855) Taylor covers much the same ground as MT in Innocents , but as (to use the label he gave himself) a "sentimental traveler":

Selections from Views A-Foot

As MT notes in the opening chapters of Innocents, by the end of the Civil War the number of Americans going to the Old World grew dramatically. Whereas earlier travelers had to rely on European guidebooks like Murray's and Baedeker's, by 1860 there were a number of guidebooks written specifically by and for Americans abroad. Two of the most popular were Harper's and Appleton's. As MT complains throughout Innocents , such books not only told Americans what to see in places like Paris or Rome, but also what to feel and what to say about what they saw:

Selections from Harper's Hand-Book for Travelers

Selections from Appleton's European Guide Book

Most Americans going to the Old World were, in one sense or other, pilgrims. But the special destination of the Quaker City, the main feature of its program, was the Holy Land. In a passage written for the Alta, but deleted for Innocents, MT lists eight contemporary books about Palestine that the Quaker City passengers were encouraged to bring with them on the trip, as appropriate guides to the sacred realm they were about to enter. Two such books are represented here, including Prime's Tent Life, the traveler that MT quotes and derides (as "Grimes") in his account of the Holy Land:

Selections from Prime's Tent Life

Selections from Thomson's Land and Book

Innocents Abroad offers one kind of record of the way MT read others' representations of travel through the Old World. In the summer of 2011, when Mallory Howard, Curatorial Associate at the Mark Twain House & Museum, Hartford, discovered that the copy of William G. Prime's Boat Life in Egypt and Nubia in their library contained over a dozen handwritten comments by MT, we gained access another record of that reading experience. Thanks to the efforts of Patti Philippon, Chief Curator, and the generosity of the Mark Twain House, we can look over MT's shoulder as he read Prime's book, sharing his reader responses. These range from angry contempt to playful disparagement, as you can see for yourself:

Mark-ing Up a Prime Text

MT IN HIS TIMES Homepage Innocents Abroad Homepage MT IN HIS TIMES Bibliography