THE $30,000 BEQUEST and Other Stories by Mark Twain

the American nation when we tell him that we are informed upon perfectly

good authority that this extravagant compilation of falsehoods,

this exhaustless mine of stupendous lies, this INNOCENTS ABROAD,

has actually been adopted by the schools and colleges of several

of the states as a text-book!

But if his falsehoods are distressing, his innocence and his ignorance

are enough to make one burn the book and despise the author. In one

place he was so appalled at the sudden spectacle of a murdered man,

unveiled by the moonlight, that he jumped out of the window,

going through sash and all, and then remarks with the most childlike

simplicity that he “was not scared, but was considerably agitated.”

It puts us out of patience to note that the simpleton is densely

unconscious that Lucrezia Borgia ever existed off the stage.

He is vulgarly ignorant of all foreign languages, but is frank enough

to criticize, the Italians’ use of their own tongue. He says they

spell the name of their great painter “Vinci, but pronounce it Vinchy”–

and then adds with a na:ivet’e possible only to helpless ignorance,

“foreigners always spell better than they pronounce.” In another

place he commits the bald absurdity of putting the phrase “tare

an ouns” into an Italian’s mouth. In Rome he unhesitatingly

believes the legend that St. Philip Neri’s heart was so inflamed

with divine love that it burst his ribs–believes it wholly

because an author with a learned list of university degrees strung

after his name endorses it–“otherwise,” says this gentle idiot,

“I should have felt a curiosity to know what Philip had for dinner.”

Our author makes a long, fatiguing journey to the Grotto del Cane

on purpose to test its poisoning powers on a dog–got elaborately

ready for the experiment, and then discovered that he had no dog.

A wiser person would have kept such a thing discreetly to himself,

but with this harmless creature everything comes out. He hurts

his foot in a rut two thousand years old in exhumed Pompeii,

and presently, when staring at one of the cinder-like corpses unearthed

in the next square, conceives the idea that maybe it is the remains

of the ancient Street Commissioner, and straightway his horror softens

down to a sort of chirpy contentment with the condition of things.

In Damascus he visits the well of Ananias, three thousand years old,

and is as surprised and delighted as a child to find that the water

is “as pure and fresh as if the well had been dug yesterday.”

In the Holy Land he gags desperately at the hard Arabic and Hebrew

Biblical names, and finally concludes to call them Baldwinsville,

Williamsburgh, and so on, “for convenience of spelling.”

We have thus spoken freely of this man’s stupefying simplicity

and innocence, but we cannot deal similarly with his colossal ignorance.

We do not know where to begin. And if we knew where to begin,

we certainly would not know where to leave off. We will give

one specimen, and one only. He did not know, until he got to Rome,

that Michael Angelo was dead! And then, instead of crawling away

and hiding his shameful ignorance somewhere, he proceeds to express

a pious, grateful sort of satisfaction that he is gone and out

of his troubles!

No, the reader may seek out the author’s exhibition of his

uncultivation for himself. The book is absolutely dangerous,

considering the magnitude and variety of its misstatements,

and the convincing confidence with which they are made.

And yet it is a text-book in the schools of America.

The poor blunderer mouses among the sublime creations of the

Old Masters, trying to acquire the elegant proficiency in

art-knowledge, which he has a groping sort of comprehension is a

proper thing for a traveled man to be able to display. But what is

the manner of his study? And what is the progress he achieves?

To what extent does he familiarize himself with the great pictures

of Italy, and what degree of appreciation does he arrive at? Read:

“When we see a monk going about with a lion and looking up into heaven,

we know that that is St. Mark. When we see a monk with a book and a pen,

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Categories: Twain, Mark