The Chicago of Europe, and other tales of foreign travel New York : Union Square Press, c 2009 Mark Twain ; edited and introduced by Peter Kaminsky Twain, Mark, 1835-1910 Travel Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. xxvi, 419 p. : map ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG
This book is about travel and takes its title from a tour of Europe, Germany in particular and even more particularly Berlin [the Chicago of Europe] undertaken to stave off bankruptcy. Twain was probably the greatest and most original man of letters in 19th century America and is always a pleasure to read since there is a chuckle in every sentence. We have excerpted some of his comments from his travel books in order that our readers may start the new year with a smile.
It liberates the vandal to travel – you never saw a bigoted, opinionated, stubborn, narrow-minded, self-conceited, almighty mean man in your life but he had stuck in one place since he was born and thought God made the world and dyspepsia and bile for his especial comfort and satisfaction.
The gentle reader will never, never know what a consummate ass he can become until he goes abroad. I speak now, of course, in the supposition that the gentle reader has not been abroad, and therefore is not already a consummate ass. If the case be otherwise, I beg his pardon and extend to him the cordial hand of fellowship and call him brother.
His judgements may not have always been brimming with charity as seen in his opinion of the German Language – It is easier for a cannibal to enter the Kingdom of Heaven through the eye of a rich man’s needle that it is for any other foreigner to read the terrible German. In early times some sufferer had to sit up with a toothache, and he put in the time inventing the German language – or French morality – M. de Lamester’s new French dictionary just issued in Paris defines virtue as: “A woman who has only one lover and don’t steal.”
But give him a place and a people that he loved and the barbs became a good deal softer as we find him speaking of Hawaii – The native language is soft and liquid and flexible and in every way efficient and satisfactory – till you get mad; then there you are; there isn’t anything in it to swear with. Good judges all say it is the best Sunday language there is. But then all the other six days in the week it just hangs idle on your hands; it isn’t any good for business and you can’t work a telephone with it. Many a time the attention of the missionaries has been called to this defect, and they are always promising they are going to fix it; but no, they go fooling along and fooling along and nothing is done.
Although even there the point of the pen stands ready to lance to tormentors of the innocent – Nearby is an interesting ruin – the meager remains of an ancient temple – a place where human sacrifices were offered up in those old bygone days…long, long before the missionaries braved a thousand privations to come and make [the natives] permanently miserable by telling them how beautiful and how blissful a place heaven is, and how nearly impossible it is to get there; and showed the poor native how dreary a place perdition is and what unnecessarily liberal facilities there are for going to it; showed him how, in his ignorance, he had gone and fooled away all his kinsfolk to no purpose; showed him what rapture it is to work all day long for fifty cents to buy food for next day with, as compared with fishing for a pastime and lolling in the shade through eternal summer, and eating of the bounty that nobody labored to provide but Nature. How sad it is to think of the multitudes who have gone to their graves in this beautiful island and never knew there was a hell.
And finally even the lure of Circe failed to entice – as it does for all of us who have had to travel and are left with a list of places we would have liked to have been but no place we are willing to go. Travel has no longer any charm for me. I have seen all the foreign countries I want to except heaven & hell & I have only a vague curiosity about one of those.