The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume One, lies open before me. These 467 pages represent just a portion of the extensive memoir of Samuel Clemens who wrote under the pen-name of Mark Twain. I close the volume to study the cover. Twain is presented in his later years in this photograph of black and white. The photographer captured Twain with his gaze held upward as if he was trying to remember.
It is not hard to recall Twain’s beloved characters of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. When children see a rendering of Finn, they shout—“Mark Twain!” But who is the real author hidden in the pages of his novels. Is he the humorist of his essays and short stories? Is he a summation of them all?
I venture into this volume with an open mind and open heart. I want to know the man who captured the world’s attention. This volume begins with several encounters with General Grant at the close of the Civil War as Twain played a large role in securing General Grant’s memoirs for the public. But hiding between the “Grant Memories” and “My Debut as a Literary Person” are his “Travel Scraps.”
Who knew? Twain was a world traveler and not only did he travel—he STAYED!
Since this website is dedicated to Writing Our Stories of Culture, I want to share two things with you that I discovered from Twain’s descriptions of his time spent in the United Kingdom.
One. How does Twain describe London as the newcomer?
Two. How does he describe London once he became adjusted or acculturated?
When Twain first lived in London, he was flustered with the local transportation. Note his sarcasm in this excerpt from pages 107-108…
London travels by omnibus—pleasant, but as deadly slow as a European lift: and by underground railway, which is an invention of Satan himself. It goes no direct course, but always away around. When the train arrives you must jump, rush, fly, and swarm with the crowd into the first cigar box that is handy, lest you get left. You have hardly time to mash yourself into a portion of a seat before the train is off again. It goes blustering and squttering along, puking smoke and cinders in at the window, which some one has opened in pursuance of his right to make the whole cigar box uncomfortable if his comfort requires it; the fog of black smoke smothers the lamp and dims its light, and the double row of jammed people sit there and bark at each other, and the righteous and the unrighteous pray each after his own fashion. The train stops every few minutes, and there is a new rush and scramble each time.
Clemens continues in great detail –for nearly a thousand words—regarding why you can’t keep your appointment across the city. He concludes this topic with…
So you send a telegram to your friend, stating that you have met with an accident, and begging him not to wait dinner for you. You are aware that all the offices in his neighborhood close at eight in the evening and it is ten now; it is also Saturday night, and England keeps Sunday; but the telegram will reach his house Monday morning, and when he gets back from business at five in the evening he will get it, and will know then that you did not come Saturday evening, and why.
So, on the onset Clemens expends a great deal of energy on something he can’t change. This phenomenon is seen in the stage of acculturation that some label as CULTURE SHOCK.
Second, let’s see how Twain describes London after he has had some time to settle in..
Clemens leaves his disdain for transportation in London to SEE Londoners as decent human beings. He sees something of beauty in the locals’ ability to give pennies to the traveling singer on the streets, no matter his or her ability to sing:
Still, your respect is compelled: partly for the catholic width of taste that can find room for music like that, and partly for the spirit of benevolence that is in the breast of him who throws the penny. The spirit of benevolence is there, there can be no question about that. There is nothing that is quite so marvelous to the stranger as the free way in which England pours out money upon charities…there are enough…to make you wonder and admire and take off your hat.
This endearing paragraph shows me that the traveler grows, he adjusts, he starts to UNDERSTAND all the factors that make a place what it is.
Oh, that we would all look with eyes of admiration to our neighbor in the exotic and strange places you will travel this year, 2018.