What do you think?
Rate this book
560 pages, Paperback
First published February 1, 1869
In Paris we often saw in shop windows the sign “English Spoken Here,” just as one sees in the windows at home the sign “Ici on parle francaise.” We always invaded these places at once — and invariably received the information, framed in faultless French, that the clerk who did the English for the establishment had just gone to dinner and would be back in an hour — would Monsieur buy something? We wondered why those parties happened to take their dinners at such erratic and extraordinary hours, for we never called at a time when an exemplary Christian would be in the least likely to be abroad on such an errand. The truth was, it was a base fraud — a snare to trap the unwary — chaff to catch fledglings with. They had no English-murdering clerk. They trusted to the sign to inveigle foreigners into their lairs, and trusted to their own blandishments to keep them there till they bought something.Second, Twain the romantic describes the city of Venice:
We see little girls and boys go out in gondolas with their nurses, for an airing. We see staid families, with prayer-book and beads, enter the gondola dressed in their Sunday best, and float away to church. And at midnight we see the theatre break up and discharge its swarm of hilarious youth and beauty; we hear the cries of the hackman-gondoliers, and behold the struggling crowd jump aboard, and the black multitude of boats go skimming down the moonlit avenues; we see them separate here and there, and disappear up divergent streets; we hear the faint sounds of laughter and of shouted farewells floating up out of the distance; and then, the strange pageant being gone, we have lonely stretches of glittering water — of stately buildings — of blotting shadows — of weird stone faces creeping into the moonlight — of deserted bridges — of motionless boats at anchor. And over all broods that mysterious stillness, that stealthy quiet, that befits so well this old dreaming Venice.Third, Twain the cynic takes us on a tour of the grottos of the Holy Land:
They have got the “Grotto” of the Annunciation here; and just as convenient to it as one’s throat is to his mouth, they have also the Virgin’s Kitchen, and even her sitting-room, where she and Joseph watched the infant Saviour play with Hebrew toys eighteen hundred years ago. All under one roof, and all clean, spacious, comfortable “grottoes.” It seems curious that personages intimately connected with the Holy Family always lived in grottoes — in Nazareth, in Bethlehem, in imperial Ephesus — and yet nobody else in their day and generation thought of doing any thing of the kind. If they ever did, their grottoes are all gone, and I suppose we ought to wonder at the peculiar marvel of the preservation of these I speak of. When the Virgin fled from Herod’s wrath, she hid in a grotto in Bethlehem, and the same is there to this day. The slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem was done in a grotto; the Saviour was born in a grotto — both are shown to pilgrims yet. It is exceedingly strange that these tremendous events all happened in grottoes — and exceedingly fortunate, likewise, because the strongest houses must crumble to ruin in time, but a grotto in the living rock will last forever. It is an imposture — this grotto stuff — but it is one that all men ought to thank the Catholics for. Wherever they ferret out a lost locality made holy by some Scriptural event, they straightway build a massive — almost imperishable — church there, and preserve the memory of that locality for the gratification of future generations …. The old monks are wise. They know how to drive a stake through a pleasant tradition that will hold it to its place forever.Oh, I almost forgot. The Quaker City cruise not only made Sam Clemens famous: it got him a wife as well. One of the friends he made on the voyage was Charles Langdon, who showed him a photograph of his sister Olivia. Twain later declared it was love at first sight. Soon after the Quaker City returned to New York, Sam and Olivia had their first date: they attended a reading by Dickens. On February 8, 1870, Sam and his beloved “Livy” were married.
”However, they must keep epidemics away somehow or other, and fumigation is cheaper than soap. They must either wash themselves or fumigate other people. Some of the lower classes had rather die than wash, but the fumigation of strangers causes them no pangs.”
” These ancient painters never succeeded in denationalizing themselves. The Italian artists painted Italian Virgins, the Dutch painted Dutch Virgins, the Virgins of the French painters were Frenchwomen — none of them ever put into the face of the Madonna that indescribable something which proclaims the Jewess, whether you find her in New York, in Constantinople, in Paris, Jerusalem, or in the empire of Morocco.”
”Among the most precious of the relics were a stone from the Holy Sepulchre, part of the crown of thorns, (they have a whole one at Notre Dame,) a fragment of the purple robe worn by the Saviour, a nail from the Cross, and a picture of the Virgin and Child painted by the veritable hand of St. Luke.”
”The strangest thing about the incident that has made her name so famous, is, that when she wiped the perspiration away, the print of the Saviour’s face remained upon the handkerchief, a perfect portrait, and so remains unto this day. We knew this, because we saw this handkerchief in a cathedral in Paris, in another in Spain, and in two others in Italy. In the Milan cathedral it costs five francs to see it, and at St. Peter’s, at Rome, it is almost impossible to see it at any price. No tradition is so amply verified as this of St. Veronica and her handkerchief.”
”One might swear that all the John Smiths and George Wilkinsons, and all the other pitiful nobodies between Kingdom Come and Baalbec would inscribe their poor little names upon the walls of Baalbec’s magnificent ruins, and would add the town, the county and the State they came from — and swearing thus, be infallibly correct. It is a pity some great ruin does not fall in and flatten out some of these reptiles, and scare their kind out of ever giving their names to fame upon any walls or monuments again, forever.”