In 1868, Mark Twain travelled to Europe aboard the steamship Quaker City and wrote about his experiences in The Alta California of San Francisco and the New York Tribune and only subscribers could read them. These documented journals of his travels catapulted the author to international fame as they were later published in book form in 1869. Twain experienced a Europe whose historical monuments and geography are still familiar today, but whose culture and peoples are much different. Twain’s writings in Innocents Abroad remind me of Voltaire’s experiences of the world a century earlier in1759 which he wrote in the fictional classic Candide. Both writers observed the world of their time in a humorous, satirical manner while painting a picture of a civilization that most would not have the fortune to experience through extensive travel. Twain and Voltaire both brought the world to their readers. In Twain’s Preface he states that this is not a record of a scientific expedition full of “gravity, profundity and impressive incomprehensibility” but rather it is a record of a “picnic which has a purpose”
Twains journey starts in Paris, then to England, Scotland, Switzerland, Italy, Vesuvius, Constantinople, Smyrna, and finally ending in The Holy Land. Twain remarks on his European travels with humor, sarcasm and delight. However, his tone changes once he reaches the Holy Land. His heart becomes transformed as he walks where Jesus walked. As he recounts the Biblical history along with his geographical history, he sees Jesus in a new light. Twain remarks, “I cannot comprehend this; the gods of my understanding have always been hidden in the clouds and very far away…Christ knew how to preach to these simple, superstitious, disease-tortured creatures and when they saw him make the sick whole with a word, no wonder they worshipped him”. This tome is nearly 400 pages, but I believe it is one of Mark Twain’s best works and should be read.
In this blog, I have recounted some highlights of interest from Twain’s observations and reflections of his journey.
Volume I: Europe
1. Rock of Gibraltar: Queen’s Chair: The Queen of Spain placed her chair on the highest point when the French and Spanish troops were besieging Gibraltar and said she wouldn’t remove it until the English flag was lowered from the fortresses.
2. Tangier: Tangier is a foreign land straight from Arabian Nights, with a massive stone wall of more than a thousand years old. There was no white man visible; mainly Jews. When Joshua drove out the Canaanites, they came to Tangier. Hercules came here four thousand years ago clad in lion-skin.
3. France: a. Paris: Twain stayed in a hotel on the Rue de Rivoli across from the Louvre where the Emperor Napoleon III still lived. Impressionist paintings had not been displayed yet. He attended the International Exposition in the new Paris which had been recently rebuilt by Napoleon III and Baron Haussmann. At the Notre Dame Cathedral, built in AD 1000, Twain reminds his readers of its grand history: St. Bartholomew’s Massacre, the Reign of Terror, the carnage of the Revolution, the overthrow of a king, the coronation of two Napoleons. At the Père La Chaise cemetery, he visited the tombs of Bellini, Rubini, Balzac, Beumarchais, Molière, Abelard and Heloiseand Lafontaine.Twain saw the Emperor of France and the Sultan of Turkey review twenty-five thousand troops at the Arc de Triumph where “the First Century greets the Nineteenth”.Twain experienced the pleasure of eating French cuisine where “the food was well cooked, the waiters so polite, and the departing company so moustached, so frisky, so affable, so fearfully Frenchy!”
4. Italy: a. Genoa: The Birthplace of Christopher Columbus, Chapel of St. John the Baptist (his ashes), Portrait of Madonna painted by St. Luke, b. Milan: Cathedral with St. Paul’s and Peter’s fingers, a handkerchief with Jesus’ impression of his face; Ambrosia Library with sketches of Michelangelo and Da Vinci. “ Last Supper” fresco by Da Vinci which Twain calls “a miracle of art”. c. Venice: Under the mellow moonlight the Venice of poetry and romance stood revealed, “there was life and motion everywhere…sot of stillness that was suggestive of secret enterprises of bravoes and of lovers- Venice was complete”; the gondolas, the Cathedral of St. Mark (his ashes). d. Florence: tombs of Michael Angelo, Raphael, and Machiavelli, the Duomo; Rome: St. Peter’s and the Vatican “We stood reverently in that place; the ashes of Peter, the Mamertine Prison where he was confined, the footprints of Peter”. The Forum, the Coliseum, the Pantheon, Temple of Hercules, the Acropolis,
Volume II: Europe (contd) and Asia
e. Vesuvius: Blue grotto, the Isle of Capri, crater 250 feet deep f. Pompei: buried in ash 1800 years ago, still as it was: mosaic floors, stuccoed walls, ornamented bas-reliefs abandoned houses, business, Forum of Justice. Pompeians were luxurious in taste and habits, lovers of art; public bulletin board etched in stone. Twain asks, “What would a volcano (or flood) leave of an American city if it rained its cinders on it? Hardly a sign or symbol to tell its story”. Twain recounts the story of Pliny the younger who on the 9th of November, A.D. 79 pleaded with his mother to leave the area toward safety and she begged him to leave her to perish and save himself.
5. Greece: a. Athens: Grecian Archipelago, Black sea, the Golden Horn
6. Constantinople (modern day Istanbul, Turkey);
7. Russia: a.Odessa b. Yalta
8. ASIA: a. Smyrna (Church in Revalation) Church is a “party of believers”, not a building according to Twain; b. Ephesus: Candlesticks have been removed. The light has been pulled out. Paul was imprisoned in the “Temple of Diana”; Bacchus and Hercules, Homer, Alexander the Great, Augustus, Antony, the Crusaders c. Lebanon :Joshua raid on Jericho, Noah’s tomb . d.Damascus: oldest city on Earth, possibly where Garden of Eden was. Founded by Uz, Grandson of Noah. Saul’s conversion; Story of Joseph and his brothers e. Capernaum: where Jesus began his ministry which was within 120 mile radius. f.Tiberias: Built by Herod Antipas who murdered John the Baptist. The Sanhedrin met here; Tabor- the mount of transfigurationg. Nazareth: scene of Mary’s annunciation; grotto, h. Jerusalem: Holy Sepulchre: place of crucifixion;
After traveling over half of a world to catch fitful glimpse, Twain states in his conclusion, “The excursion has ended, and has passed to its place among the things that were. But its varied scenes and its manifold incidents will linger pleasantly in our memories for many a year to come”. Now, 140 years later, these memories still linger.
Copyright 2013 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full only with attribution to Robyn Lowrie. (www.frenchquest.com)