Packard's Monthly [unsigned]
1869: October


The Innocents Abroad; or, The New Pilgrim's Progress, is the title of Mark Twain's latest appearance between covers. The book is a ponderous one, containing over 650 pages, splendidly illustrated, and produced in the best style of art by the American Publishing Company, of Hartford. No ordinary "notice" can do justice to this work. In the language of many others, "it must be seen (and read) to be appreciated." It is a curious account of the famous Quaker City pleasure trip to the Mediterranean and the Holy Land, which was conceived by and executed under command of Captain Duncan, in the summer of 1867. There were many intelligent sight-seers among "the innocents"; but few, we are inclined to believe, who got as much out of the trip as did the author of this book. Mark Twain is a born journalist, besides being at the present time first among American humorists. It is, indeed, doubtful if he has ever had an equal; he certainly has not had in his line -- that of dry, self-contained, unobtrusive and pervading fun. There is no glare in his emanations -- no blinding coruscations of wit, which, flashing suddenly upon you, as suddenly go out, leaving you in darkness and uncertainty; no apparent striving after sharp effects; no digging in poor soil for poorer puns. What is said is most naturally said, and if there is humor in it, it is because the writer could not express it otherwise. Whatever may be the quality of the wine which fills your glass, you never feel that it is being drawn from an empty cask, or that its flavor is at all dependent upon the abundance of its supply. When Mr. Beecher was reprimanded for saying so many funny things in the pulpit, he replied, "Oh, but if you only knew the number of funny things I do not say!" And this is the impression left upon the reader of Mark Twain. Whatever good things he may choose to fasten with his pen, one cannot but feel that his best things are yet untold. There is one species of poor wit that Mark has not yet found it necessary to attempt, and we trust he never will, and that is poor orthography and worse grammar. It is not to be denied that a telling point may sometimes be made by a violent assault upon the barriers of "good English." Artemus Ward achieved some glory in this field; and his literary successor, Josh Billings, sometimes unearths a nugget; but the game thus far has not been worth the candle, and we doubt if it ever will be. At all events, Mark Twain has no such weak necessity, and we are glad of it. Some portions of the book are devoted to correct, unexaggerated descriptions of the country, and matters requiring historical accuracy; but there is no pretence, other than of a humorous and extravagant account of a memorable voyage. There will be those who will see in the descriptions of the Holy Land a conspicuous lack of reverence for sacred associations, and the contrast between this and ordinary guide-books will not need to be pointed out; but the artistic and effectual disposal of the romantic tales of tourists, which have enveloped these scenes with a mysterious beauty and awe not to be penetrated or approached, will be at least satisfactory to the matter-of-fact reader.

Here is his quiet style of getting down from a high state of mental exhilaration to every-day considerations:

At noon we took a swim in the Sea of Galilee--a blessed privilege in this roasting climate--and then lunched under a neglected old fig tree at the fountain they call Ain-et-Tin, a hundred yards from ruined Capernaum. Every rivulet that gurgles out of the rocks and sands of this part of the world is dubbed with the title of "fountain," and people familiar with the Hudson, the Great Lakes, and the Mississippi fall into transports of admiration over them, and exhaust their powers of composition in writing their praises. If all the poetry and nonsense that have been discharged upon the fountains and the bland scenery of this region were collected in a book, in would make a most valuable volume to burn.
    During luncheon, the pilgrim enthusiasts of our party, who had been so light-headed and happy ever since they touched holy ground that they did little but mutter incoherent rhapsodies, could scarcely eat, so anxious were they to "take shipping" and sail in very person upon the waters that had borne the vessels of the Apostles. Their anxiety grew and their excitement augmented with every fleeting moment, until my fears were aroused and I began to have misgivings that in their present condition they might break recklessly loose from all considerations of prudence and buy a whole fleet of ships to sail in instead of hiring a single one for an hour, as quiet folk are wont to do. I trembled to think of the ruined purses this day's performances might result in. I could not help reflecting bodingly upon the intemperate zeal with which middle-aged men are apt to surfeit themselves upon a seductive folly which they have tasted for the first time. And yet I did not feel that I had a right to be surprised at the state of things which was giving me so much concern. These men had been taught from infancy to revere, almost to worship, the holy places whereon their happy eyes were resting now. For many and many a year this very picture had visited their thoughts by day and floated through their dreams by night. To stand before it in the flesh--to see it as they saw it now--to sail upon the hallowed sea, and kiss the holy soil that compassed it about; these were aspirations they had cherished while a generation dragged its lagging seasons by and left its furrows in their faces and its frosts upon their hair. To look upon this picture, and sail upon this sea, they had forsaken home and its idols and journeyed thousands and thousands of miles, in weariness and tribulation. What wonder that the sordid lights of work-day prudence should pale before the glory of a hope like theirs in the full splendor of its fruition? Let them squander millions! I said--who speaks of money at a time like this?
    In this frame of mind I followed, as fast as I could, the eager footsteps of the pilgrims, and stood upon the shore of the lake, and swelled, with hat and voice, the frantic hail they sent after the "ship" that was speeding by. It was a success. The toilers of the sea ran in and beached their bark. Joy sat upon every countenance.
    "How much?--ask him how much, Ferguson!--how much to take us all--eight of us and you--to Bethsaida, yonder, and to the mouth of Jordan, and to the place where the swine ran down into the sea--quick!--and we want to coast around everywhere--everywhere!--all day long! --I could sail a year in these waters!--and tell him we'll stop at Magdala and finish at Tiberias!--ask him how much!--anything--anything whatever!--tell him we don't care what the expense is!" (I said to myself, I knew how it would be.)
    Ferguson--(interpreting)--"He says two napoleons--eight dollars."
    One or two countenances fell. Then a pause.
    "Too much!--we'll give him one!"
    I shall never know how it was--I shudder yet when I think how the place is given to miracles--but in a single instant of time, as it seemed to me, that ship was twenty paces from the shore, and speeding away like a frightened thing! Eight crest-fallen creatures stood upon the shore, and oh, to think of it! this--this--after all that overmastering ecstasy! Oh, shameful, shameful ending, after such unseemly boasting! It was too much like "Ho! let me at him!" followed by a prudent, "Two of you hold him--one can hold me!"

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