February 25, 2012

The Innocents Abroad

The Innocents Abroad is early Twain.  In fact, other than "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," he was more well known as a young, satirical travel writer.  This is a photograph taken in 1867, around the time of the travels written of in the book.

Being a collection of writings gathered together that had been published serially, it's a bit rough around the edges and lags in parts, but even at 32, he had a wise, sardonic eye and a talent for skewering his subjects, himself and his readers all at the same time.  It was also apparently his bestselling book during his lifetime and one of the bestselling travel books ever written.  It certainly gave P. J. O'Rourke and other wise-cracking, travelling journalists something to emulate.

It's the report of a cruise aboard a repurposed Civil War vessel with a bunch of other Americans around Europe, North Africa and the Holy Land.  Just as Jon Stewart makes fun of a lot of things but the roasting of the television news media itself seems to be the heart of The Daily Show, Twain makes fun of many things but always goes back to the contrast between what he's seeing and experiencing and what he's been led to expect to see and experience by the overinflated travel writers before him.  Of course, he also has at his fellow travelers, himself, the countries he's visiting, and everyone he meets as well.

A particular favorite target of he and his fellow travelers is "Ferguson." He (it's always a he) is the name they give to every tour guide in every country they visit whether they like the name or not.  Usually not. Poor Ferguson is teased mercilessly no matter the context.  In Italy, he's repeatedly asked if the artist of whatever great work they're currently appreciating is dead when it's clear that he would have to be.  Or he's asked if the great work is by Michelangelo when it's clear that it's not.  So he's torturing "Ferguson" for being a know-it-all who tells them more than they wish to know and has fun with the idea of the "Ugly American" traveller at the same time.

He employs both skepticism and appreciation when they finally get to the Holy Land.  He obviously has reverence for the place and knows the stories well, but can't help but trash the folly of man and his religions who constantly war and do violence to one another for slim theological differences.  He also enjoys pointing out the sheer absurdity of the so-called religious relics that are enshrined at nearly every church or holy place they visit throughout Europe and the Middle East.

I'll leave you with some of the many quotes I underlined:

"The information the ancients didn't have was very voluminous. Even the prophets wrote book after book and epistle after epistle, yet never once hinted at the existence of a great continent on our side of the water; yet they must have known it was there, I should think."

"I must have a prodigious quantity of mind; it takes me as much as a week to make it up."

"The gentle reader will never, never know what a consummate ass he can become, unless he goes abroad."

"A thistle grows about here which has needles on it that would pierce through leather, I think; if one touches you, you can find relief in nothing but profanity."

"All sects of Christians (except Protestants,) have chapels under the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchure, and each must keep to itself and not venture upon another's ground.  It has been proven conclusively that they can not worship together around the grave of the Saviour of the World in peace."