Sunday, May 14, 2017

Innocents Abroad

I just finished reading Mark Twain's famous travel book, Innocents Abroad, or the New Pilgrims' Progress (1869), a lively and descriptive account of an 1867 pleasure cruise from France to the Holy Land.  William Dean Howells bestowed a favorable review on the book in the Atlantic Monthly (although he botched Samuel L. Clemons's name):

"Under his nom de plume of Mark Twain, Mr. Clements is well known to the very large world of newspaper-readers; and this book ought to secure him something better than the uncertain standing of a popular favorite  It is no business of ours to fix his rank among the humorists California has given us, but we think he is, in an entirely different way from all the others, quite worthy of the company of the best."

The book's final chapter had some words that spoke directly to my situation:  "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.  Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things can not be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

I should get out and travel more in the coming years.

I read a short biography of Mark Twain and learned that he received very little formal schooling.  He educated himself by serious and persistent reading in public libraries, which must have been furnished with heartier literature than can be found in today's suburban libraries.  A modern-day Mark Twain would find little more than trashy detective books and dreary feminist novels on the shelves.

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